It promises to be a campaign as passionate and dramatic as any big election. For the next 14 weeks, the Boy Scouts of America will be the focus of prayers, petitions and pressure tactics aimed at swaying a vote on whether to ease its ban on gays as Scouts or adult leaders.
The decision will be made the week of May 20 by the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA’s National Council. The policy was supposed to be settled Wednesday by the Scouts’ 70-member national executive board, but the board concluded the issue was so complex that the organization needed more time to study it.
At stake is a proposal to ease the ban by allowing sponsors of local Scout units to decide for themselves whether to admit gays. Gay-rights groups say the plan is inadequate, and that no units should be allowed to discriminate. Some conservative religious leaders and advocacy groups want the ban to stay in place nationwide.
Both sides are girding for intensive lobbying between now and late May, hoping to influence the outcome.
“Keep the pressure on,” was the message Thursday from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to its supporters.
GLAAD, which has been active in several recent campaigns opposing the ban, provided information on how to telephone or email BSA headquarters and offered suggestions for how to advocate using Twitter and Facebook.
“Take action!” GLAAD exhorted. “Send a message to the Boy Scouts that we won’t rest until they end the ban.”
The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group, said it will caution the BSA’s corporate donors that they would lose points in an annual “equality index” if they continued to support the Scouts as long as any units were allowed to exclude gays.
Similar campaigns were being waged by conservative groups seeking to keep the ban in place.
“This is far from over,” wrote Tony Perkins of the Family Research Center in an online message. The center “will continue in our efforts to help the BSA stand strong against the corporate executives and activists who care more about conformity than character.”
Perkins said the efforts would include outreach to Scouting parents, liaisons with religious denominations that sponsor Scout units and an extension of an ongoing campaign to flood BSA offices with calls and emails.
Several other conservative groups have joined in an online campaign calling for the resignation of BSA executive board member Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, who said last year he would try to move the Scouts away from the ban on gays.
“It seems Stephenson’s mission is to destroy the Boy Scouts of America from within,” said the American Family Association. “As an executive board member, he is using his corporate influence to bully the BSA into gay assimilation.”