The Boy Scouts of America’s new head, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, revealed on Friday that he would have supported allowing openly gay adults to serve in the organization, but is currently against reopening the debate.
"I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made," Gates told the Associated Press before giving a speech to BSA national leaders at their annual meeting in Nashville. "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."
Gates was confirmed as BSA president on Thursday. His appointment came one year after the organization’s controversial vote to allow gay youth, but not openly gay adults, to join the scouts. In his comments, Gates said the voting process left BSA “divided, distracted and defensive." He added that he isn’t open to revisiting the issue during his presidency.
"Given the strong feelings - the passion - involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to reopen 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 reopen the issue.”
Gates’ comments come just a few days after the organization faced questions regarding a little-known change that was made to the eligibility age of youth scouts. In an internal resolution obtained by NBC News, it was revealed that the organization had voted to move the eligibility age of scouting youth from 21 to 18 years old. This would cause scouts that are currently considered youth to fall under the adult membership guidelines, which included the ban on gays serving in the organization. The change isn’t expected to be implemented until 2015.
Though the organization said last year that all current youth members could remain in the program, even those in programs with a maximum age of 21, many now feel the recent change in eligibility requirements goes against those claims by BSA.
In a statement, Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality, said he was disappointed in Gates’ comments.
“We hope now that he will do what all Eagle Scouts are charged to do: lead. 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."
He added, “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.”