Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America and former secretary of defense, called for the BSA to reevaluate its ban on gay adults today at the group's National Annual Meeting in Atlanta.
Gates said that he was “not asking the National Board for any action to change our current policy at this meeting.”
“But I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of CIA and secretary of defense. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained,” Gates said.
Gates added that acting proactively would allow the BSA to set its own course to recalibrate the policy, and in the process "preserve the religious freedom of our church partners."
In 2013, the BSA passed a resolution to allow gay youth members, but a ban on gay adult leaders remained in place.
The move divided the scouting world. Some local councils, such as Denver and New York, have bucked the national policy and allowed gay adults. But some faith-based organizations that sponsor scout groups have formed their own programs out of dissatisfaction with allowing gay youth.
Gates said that division left the BSA in “an unsustainable position.”
“A position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy. We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later,” Gates said.
The Alamo Area Council, San Antonio’s local branch of the BSA, adheres to the national membership policy.
A troop in Converse asked Adella Freeman and her partner Barbara Wright to leave the group because of their sexual orientation. The troop said that Freeman’s son, Nick Zamora, could remain. Zamora declined, even though he was nearly an Eagle Scout.
“Until the Boy Scouts change their policies, I’m done with them,” Zamora said to the San Antonio Current in April. “My moms are my family, and my family is everything to me. If the Boy Scouts can’t accept my family for who they are, then the rank of Eagle Scout means nothing to me.”
Freeman started a petition asking the Alamo Area Council to support a change in the membership policy, which garnered over 100,000 signatures.
Immediate action is unlikely to follow Gates' remarks. A change in the policy would require action from the BSA's National Board. Addressing the policy doesn't appear on the National Annual Meeting schedule.