US & Canada

Boy Scouts' chief says ban on gay adults 'unsustainable'

Robert Gates at a podium Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Gates, seen in this photo from May 2014, was the US Defense Secretary when the US Congress repealed a ban on openly gay service members

The head of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has said that the organisation's long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults is unsustainable.

Robert Gates said no changes would be made at the meeting, but opened the door to a future policy review.

The former US Defence Secretary cited defiant chapters, possible legal challenges and other developments related to gay rights in the US.

Gay rights groups have welcomed Mr Gates' comments.

"The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," Robert Gates said at the group's annual meeting in Atlanta.

However, he raised the possibility that the organisation could revise its policy to allow local chapters to decide for themselves whether to allow gay adults to serve as leaders.

In 2013, the national organisation decided to allow openly gay youth to participate as scouts, but kept its ban on adults in place. The came into effect in January of 2014, and was the result of a bitter internal debate.

Mr Gates, who was in charge of the US military when congress voted to repeal the ban on openly gay service members, became the BSA's president in May 2014. Upon assuming office, Mr Gates said that he personally would have favoured ending the ban on gay adults. However, he did not want any further debate on the issue at that time.

On Thursday, he said recent developments "have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore".

Citing a defiant chapter in New York that recently hired an openly gay summer camp leader and other developments related to gay rights in the US, Mr Gates said: "We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pascal Tessier (C), seen in this photo from February 2014, was hired by a New York boy scout chapter in April of this year, in defiance of the BSA's ban of gay leaders

"I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending US Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage," he said.

He said that while the BSA had the power to revoke the charters of local chapters that defied the ban on gay adults, doing so would be harmful to boy scouts in those regions.

Mr Gates also said that laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation that have been passed in many states could open the BSA up to extensive legal battles.

"Between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts, the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position, a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy," he said.

Groups that campaign against the ban have welcomed Mr Gates' comments.

"It seems like the Boy Scouts will continue an internal dialogue about the subject and that a change within the next year or two is imminent," said Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality.

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Media captionPascal and his gay brother spoke to the BBC about the 'indefensible' ban in 2013

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