Robert Gates, who on Thursday took over
as president of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), on Friday said that
re-opening the topic of allowing openly gay adults in the BSA could
lead to the organization's demise.
The BSA ended its policy banning openly
gay scouts in January, but adult gays are not allowed to participate
in the program.
Gates, who as secretary of defense
oversaw the end of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy,
made his remarks in an interview with the AP.
“I was prepared to go further than
the decision that was made,” Gates
said. “I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at
the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically
arrived at by 1,500 volunteers [on the National Council] from across
the entire country.”
The issue “has left us divided,
distracted and defensive,” Gates said.
“Given the strong feelings – the
passion – involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly
that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year's
decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even
provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement – with the high
likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own.”
“... And who would pay the price for
destroying the Boy Scouts of America? Millions of Scouts today and
Scouts yet unborn. … Thus, during my time as president, I will
oppose any effort to re-open the issue,” he added.
reported on Tuesday that BSA leaders had quietly voted to change
the organization's definition of youth, lowering it from 21 to 18
across all its programs. That is, once the policy takes effect in
2015, openly gay scouts will be forced out of the BSA three years
earlier than under the previous policy.
Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for
Equality, criticized Gates' decision, calling it a “copout.”
“His characterization of last year's
decision as 'democratic' is unfortunate and untrue, as the resolution
limiting inclusion to only youth was crafted by a small, unelected
committee more concerned with avoiding criticism than with following
the principles of the Scout Oath and law,” Wahls said in a
“This is a copout, and it tarnishes
the legacy Mr. Gates has built as a leader who bridged cultural and
political divides and led the military – and now the Boy Scouts –
into the 21st century.”