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What's Wrong with Gay Boy Scout Leaders?

Moral and Intellectual Consistency Requires a Better Policy

According to the New York Times, the Boy Scouts of America on Friday proposed ending its ban on openly gay scouts but continue to bar gay adults from serving as leaders. This policy is wrongheaded, regardless of whether you think homosexuality is right or wrong. By pushing gay men further into the back of the closet, the policy potentially increases the risk of the very thing the policy is intended to prevent. If the organization wants to protect Boy Scouts from sexual predators, it should welcome openly gay Scout leaders.

 

Does the Policy Makes Sense If Homosexuality is a Sin?

As an organization that promotes religion as being essential to morality, the Boy Scouts of America may want to continue their ban because many religious individuals believe homosexuality is a sin.  The problem with this view, a problem acknowledged by many conservative Christians, is that it is hard to call a person’s sexual preferences sinful, separate from whether they act out upon those preferences. I do not know many Christians who believe that homosexuality per se is a sin. Instead, the conservative Christians I know believe that homosexual sexual activity is a sin.  It’s not the preferences they view as being immoral, but the actions.  By this view, a gay man who resists the temptation to have sex with other men is not sinning.  Instead, he is showing moral strength.  (By the same token, wanting to commit adultery is not necessarily a sin, while cheating on your spouse is.)

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If being homosexual disqualifies people as Boy Scout leaders, then the Boy Scouts of America should be clear that it is active homosexuals that they are banning, not just people who self-identify as gay.  And in that case, they should also query potential scout leaders about other potential sins—adultery would be a nice (and symmetrical) place to start.  Perhaps anyone who has participated in a threesome.  The Boy Scouts ought to give some kind of moral test to political leaders to determine their fitness for duty.  If they don’t do that, then they are simply being biased against homosexuals.  Moral consistency compels them to be more rigorous in assessing the moral standing of their leaders, or to put this whole topic aside. 

Alternatively, if it is not homosexual activity alone that is immoral, but mere homosexual preferences—if the unfulfilled desire to have sex with other men is enough of a sin to preclude people from becoming Boy Scout leaders—then I would want an even more stringent moral test.  Ever covet thy neighbor’s wife?  Ever double-take at a 17-year-old walking by you on the beach?  Then you should not be a Boy Scout leader. 

That type of policy would be ridiculous, of course.  We are all sinners.  It cannot be the sin, alone, that precludes people from Boy Scout leaders.  What, then, lies behind the ban? 

 

Homosexuality as a Risk Factor for Sexual Predation

Another reason for banning homosexual men from being troop leaders is to protect Boy Scouts from potential sexual predators.  By this account, a heterosexual male is much less likely to be sexually attracted to boys than a homosexual male. 

For the purposes of argument, let us accept that account as true.  This account is still problematic for several reasons.  First off, it fails to distinguish between sexual preference and pedophilia.  In addition, it punishes people (by banning them from the Boy Scouts) for sins they might commit, not ones they have necessarily committed.  By this logic, we should ban both heterosexuals and homosexuals from becoming high school teachers, unless they teach in single sex schools whose students are of the gender they are not inclined to be attracted to.  After all, there are well-known cases of heterosexual teachers having sex with their students. 

Of course, banning people from teaching high school because they might be attracted to their students would be an awfully silly policy.  We don’t ban heterosexual men from teaching in co-ed high schools just because they might make moves on their female students.

If risk of sexual predation is the real concern here, then banning gay leaders is probably the worst strategy the Boy Scouts of America could take.  After all, who do you think is more likely to invite a Boy Scout into his tent at night—an openly gay Scout leader or a closeted one?  A gay Scout leader in a long-term relationship (who may even have a kid on the Scouts) or one who hides his true sexual inclinations from close friends and family?

Think about the gay pedophiles who have made the news in recent years.  Jerry Sandusky—macho football coach married to a loving woman.  All those “celibate” priests, preaching about the evils of homosexuality from the pulpit.  If these men had been out of the closet, they would never have had such unfettered access to impressionable young boys. 

For the sake of moral consistency, and for the sake of our children, I hope the Boy Scouts reconsider their ban on gay Scout leaders.  


 

Peter Ubel, M.D., author of Critical Decisions and Free Market Madness, is a physician, behavioral scientist, and Professor of Business and Public Policy at Duke University.

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