WASHINGTON — The president of the Boy Scouts, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told the organization Thursday that its current blanket ban on gay leaders "cannot be sustained" and called on the group to revise the rule "sooner rather than later."
Gates was at the helm of the Pentagon at the end of "don't ask, don't tell" and is now leading the Boy Scouts as it addresses its ban on gay members. In 2013, the scouts ended its ban on gay youth members but maintained its ban on gay adult leaders.
According to his prepared remarks, Gates said that "events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore." Gates also said some local councils already are "in open defiance of the policy" — specifically referencing the actions of the Greater New York Council, on which BuzzFeed News previously reported — and "the social, political and juridicial changes taking place in our country" surrounding gay rights.
While Gates said he is "not asking the national board for any action to change our current policy at this time," he stated the issue confronting the organization unequivocally.
"I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of the CIA and secretary of defense," he said. "We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained."
As to those councils in "open defiance," he added that, while the national organization "technically" could revoke the charters of those councils, "I will not take that path." The decision effectively means that councils can ignore the ban — but Gates said nothing about whether the national organization would take action to revoke the membership of individual scout leaders who are gay.
Gates did go on to detail the potential legal problems the organization could face if it does not act, noting the possibility that a court could order a change to the policy, "We must all understand that this probably will happen sooner rather than later."
He went on to note the 2010 order striking down "don't ask, don't tell" by a court and temporarily ending the ban even before congressional action. His reference of that lawsuit — and his warning to the Scouts that "[w]e cannot predict if or when this might happen to us" — was striking acknowledgement from Gates of the impact on him of the lawsuit, brought by Log Cabin Republicans, against the military's since repealed gay ban.
Rather than wait for that, he urged the organization not to end the ban altogether, but instead to "allow charter partners — unit sponsoring organizations — to determine the standards for their scout leaders." He said that path forward "would allow all churches, which sponsor some 70% of our scout units, to establish leadership standards consistent with their faith."
Zach Wahls, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, celebrated the news — while calling for action.
"This is another step forward for the Boy Scouts of America," he said in a statement. "I'm proud to see Dr. Gates charting a course towards full equality in the BSA. While our work won't be done until we see a full end to their ban on gay adults once and for all, today's announcement is a significant step in that direction."