Slow trek: The Boy Scouts signal a timid step toward change

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When President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the military in 1948, he did not announce that certain units would welcome black troops while others would be free to stay all-white. He declared that integration would be universal.

When the Pentagon scrapped "don't ask, don't tell" in 2011, it did not say that certain branches of the armed forces could have personnel who were openly gay while others would still bar them. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said discrimination would be banned across the service.

In facing up to its own legacy of bias, the Boy Scouts of America is considering a less than all-American remedy. After years of outside criticism and withdrawn financial support, the organization announced Monday that it might allow individual troops and troop sponsors to accept homosexuals as scouts and leaders. The change could come as early as next week.

Although many who believe in equality applauded the news, this incremental improvement is only modest progress for an organization that otherwise espouses laudable values.

Like congressional Republicans who finally support immigration reform, not because it's right but because they're losing elections, it's hard to place much stock in the BSA's semi-acceptance of gays. For years, various corners of society -- academia, corporations and religions -- have stopped paying attention to sexual orientation. But it took declining enrollment, loss of dollars and widespread scorn for scouting executives to get the message that they were out of step with the mainstream.

Let's hope the Boy Scouts move ahead with allowing troops to open the door to boys and leaders who happen to be gay. With any luck, that door will swing wide at every troop and pack in America.



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