Lambda Legal Urges Boy Scouts to End Gay Ban

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January 28, 2013
Jon W. Davidson, Legal Director

Today, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, announced that it may lift its long-standing ban on openly gay and bisexual members and leaders, at next week’s board meeting.

Lambda Legal has been seeking an end to the BSA's discriminatory ban against openly gay and bisexual members and leaders for more than 20 years, since we brought our landmark BSA v. Dale case.

The Boy Scouts' statement that it is at last considering relaxing the ban in favor of allowing local organizations that sponsor troops to decide on their leaders, is encouraging. If adopted, such a change would be an incredibly important step in the right direction that is long overdue. We encourage the BSA to consider the next logical step, however, and recognize a national policy affirming that sexual orientation is not relevant to one's moral character.

In 1992, Lambda Legal filed a landmark case on behalf of Eagle Scout James Dale against the BSA and its local Scouting Council in New Jersey, after the BSA barred Dale from continuing to serve as an assistant scout troop leader because he is gay. Lambda Legal argued his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 2000, issued a 5-to-4 decision that the BSA is a private group whose constitutional right of expressive association allows it to exclude openly gay people from its leadership positions.

After the disappointing ruling in the Supreme Court, Lambda Legal continued to fight on behalf of young scouts and their families across the country. Since then, parents, religious groups, corporations, nonprofit organizations, cities and schools have determined that antigay discrimination is unhealthy for all young people and have ended their financial and other support for the BSA. Lambda Legal continues to assist those who are choosing not to support that discrimination.

In 2010, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief to support the City of Philadelphia's decision to stop subsidizing the Cradle of Liberty Council of the BSA’s harmful discrimination. The brief argues that, although the Boy Scouts are entitled to express their beliefs, as recognized in the Dale case, discrimination nevertheless causes harm. The brief further argues that the Constitution does not require the City of Philadelphia to continue to subsidize the local Boy Scouts Council’s discriminatory conduct by giving it exclusive, rent-free use of a city-owned building on the taxpayers’ dime and in violation of the city’s own nondiscrimination policy. Nothing in the Constitution requires that antigay groups receive public subsidies to facilitate their discrimination.

We look forward to what we hope will be good news from the BSA next week.