The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has finally lifted its ban on gay adults -- except for those groups that still want to discriminate. Sure, it's cause for optimism that the BSA is not enforcing the ban on every chapter and group. But by allowing some to discriminate by choice -- at this particular juncture in American politics -- the BSA is setting a dangerous precedent. By allowing the religiously-affiliated troops to still ban gay adults, the BSA is making a religious exemption seem like a reasonable compromise when in fact it is allowing the very people who would discriminate to keep discriminating.
And if I were a Republican contender for the presidency I would immediately come out in support of the policy and claim victory, because this is just the kind of policy that GOP presidential candidates, and Republicans in Congress, have been promoting as a way to keep the anti-LGBT base of their party energized heading into the 2016 election, just as I described last week.
We've heard over and over from Jeb Bush about how we have to "safeguard religious liberty," even as he claims to "respect" gay couples. While he recently came out for the idea of states -- not the federal government -- banning discrimination against LGBT Americans, he said there should be a religious exemption so that a florist, for example, should not have to serve a gay couple for their wedding. Ted Cruz has been championing as heroes an Iowa couple who are closing their for-profit business -- a restaurant, gift shop, floral boutique and wedding chapel all in one -- because they refuse to follow Iowa law, having turned away gay couples for their weddings.
A GOP-promoted bill in Congress right now, the First Amendment Defense Act, described by the ACLU as "Indiana on steroids," would put the sentiment of the Boy Scouts' policy into law, allowing individuals -- as well as organizations, companies and public servants, as "individual" is defined broadly in the bill -- to opt-out of engaging in actions or business if they have "a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."
The BSA has been using the incremental approach, having ended the ban on gay youth -- until the age of 18 -- in 2013, and now moving to this new policy ending the ban on adults but with a religious exemption. Clearly they're going in the right direction, but the 2013 partial-change satisfied no one -- not most LGBT activists, nor most religious groups. And attempting to "compromise" on civil rights sends a horrible message to young people.
The bright side is that this new policy doesn't seem to be supported by the Mormon Church, whom the BSA leadership thought was down with the new policy and which pours millions of dollars into the BSA. In a surprise, leaders of the church yesterday threatened to pull support from the BSA now that a blanket ban is gone, even though they'd still be able to discriminate in their troops but unable to stomach even a half-measure of equality for others. If they leave, good riddance, and hopefully the Catholic Church will follow if it can't accept gay adults either. The quicker the BSA can move to banning discrimination entirely, the better. That will not only send the right message to all youth but it will diminish an absurd, dangerous notion of "compromise" on equality that the GOP and its faithful are right now trying to peddle to America.