Hold your applause. As milestones go, this one is disappointing.
It is, at best, half a milestone. Or a down payment on a milestone. If you are of a more cynical bent, you might even call it an effort to forestall a milestone.
Whatever you call it, last week’s decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay Scout leaders, to join, is unlikely to please or appease either side of the gay rights struggle. Predictably, that shrinking coterie of individuals for whom homosexuality and Satanism are synonymous greeted the decision with howls of anger and pain. Matt Barber, an attorney and blogger, accused the Scouts of having “betrayed its own constituency, mission, oath and law.” John Stemberger, an Eagle Scout and anti-gay activist, predicted the Scouts will “probably be destroyed” by this decision.
For the record, the Girl Scouts have no policy limiting lesbian involvement. Indeed, according to its website, Girl Scouts of the USA has embraced diversity and inclusion from the beginning, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt that group any: It has 3.2 million members and recently celebrated its 101st anniversary. So Stemberger’s prediction that the boys are doomed for doing what the girls have done for years seems nonsensical at best.
But again, there is little reason this should be celebrated by the rest of us, either. The Boy Scouts’ decision to split the difference — allow gay boys, ban gay men — does not exactly smell of Solomonic wisdom. Rather, it is marked by reasoning that is cockamamie even if taken on its own terms.
If, for example, you buy the notion there is something about male homosexuality that renders men unfit to be leaders, why doesn’t that same flaw render boys unfit to be followers? And if you buy the idiotic canard that every gay male is a pedophile in waiting, then how you countenance allowing gay teenagers as old as 17 access to boys as young as 10?
Worse, what kind of message does all of this send gay boys? You’re acceptable until you aren’t?
It is, of course, a mistake to seek logic here. This isn’t about logic, but about a conservative group doing what conservative groups always do when social change comes. Meaning, they bring up the rear, the caboose on the freedom train lurching belatedly to where the rest of us have already been.
It happened with racism, happened with sexism, happened with anti-Semitism, all of which conservatism loudly and proudly embraced long after the rest of us came to see them as evil and wrong. It is happening now with homophobia.
The problem for the Scouts and other conservative groups (paging the GOP!) is not simply that this change has been definitive (a record 59 percent of all Americans now find gay and lesbian relationships morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll). It is not simply that this change has been swift (12 years ago, only 40 percent of us approved). No, it is also, maybe even primarily, that this change has been driven by young people, a whopping 70 percent of whom, ages 18 to 29, now believe same-sex marriage should be legal — up an also whopping 18 percentage points just since 2010.
The momentum and trajectory are unmistakable: Gay rights are the future. The organization that fails to understand this sabotages its own future credibility. So there is little reason to celebrate the Scouts’ half-hearted attempt to compromise with change. Might as well attempt to compromise with a locomotive.
Last week’s decision is a mere way station en route to a destination that seems increasingly inevitable. One day, and it probably won’t be all that long, the Scouts will concede this. On that day, this absurd decision will fall and scouting will be open to all boys and men regardless of sexual orientation.
That will be a milestone worth clapping for.