Okay, I confess: Boy Scouts were one of the great experiences of my youth. I was an Eagle Scout, attended Philmont Scout Ranch, and took from Boy Scouts some positive lessons about leadership, hard work, and the best way to give your tentmate a wedgie. To this day, I trace my love of being in the woods to the Boy Scouts.

Except for emceeing a reunion of Eagle Scouts at the Opryland Hotel last year, I am basically an uninvolved alum. And so, it is from this perspective that I have followed the Boy Scouts and its recent controversy over the expulsion of a gay scoutmaster. What a mess. What an outrage. What could the Boy Scouts have been thinking?

The story begins with a college-aged fellow named James Dale, who was an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 73 in New Jersey. Dale apparently loved scouting, and spent his volunteer hours with the troop sleeping on hard ground, eating beans from a can, and generally keeping young men from drowning, falling off cliffs, or being burned alive in a campfire. As scoutmaster, Dale tried to teach his scouts how to tie knots, apply tourniquets, and understand right from wrong. Dale, in other words, was the kind of fellow who deserves our respect.

But scouting officials eventually learned that Dale was gay. While a student at Rutgers University, Dale was a member of a gay students’ group. The Newark Star-Ledger ran a picture of him as part of that group. And Dale was exposed, busted, and tossed out of the troop. Greg Shields, national spokesman for BSA, explained to the Scene the reason for the expulsion: “Boy Scouts have always taught traditional family values.... It would be a disservice to all our members, past and present, to change that.”

This being America, Dale sued, contending the action violated New Jersey anti-discrimination laws. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and two weeks ago the court ruled that the Boy Scouts can bar gay men from serving as scoutmasters. Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his decision, wrote that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout oath and law.” Rehnquist was referring to the Scout oath and law, where Boy Scouts agree to be “morally straight” and “clean.”

Now, I have known a number of gay men. Most keep spotless homes. To assert they’re slobs is insane. End of argument, and I’m hoping none gives me trouble for making light of this, but I’m having a hard time responding to the senselessness of it all.

But let’s move on to the argument that gay men are not morally straight. This is where the knife really moves in, and where BSA, in my judgment, is being inhumane, disingenuous, hateful, malicious, and just about everything else I can think of. When the Boy Scouts contend gay men are not morally straight, they are essentially saying that gay men cannot distinguish between right and wrong. They are saying that there is a choice to be made about sexuality, and that choosing to be gay is a bad choice. Hence they are immoral.

Yo, Boy Scouts: Gay people don’t choose their lifestyle. They simply are what they are. You Boy Scout administrators, however, are the ones making the choice to hurl accusations about who is morally straight and who is not. In this case, you are the ones exhibiting moral decrepitude. You have chosen to make your associations and your exclusions. You have chosen to do what you’ve done.

I will be the first to acknowledge that I’m tired of people defining themselves according to their sexual orientation. I tire of “identity politics.” I’d rather we move on to something else. In this case, it is the Boy Scouts that have done the identifying.

This final note: Everyone who played a role in expelling James Dale from Troop 73 should recite the Scout oath and law. How can you subscribe to those words, and expel a person like James Dale?

—Bruce Dobie


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