One area gay rights advocate gave tepid praise to a possible relaxation of the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gays, but any local impact likely will depend far more on how area churches respond.
The majority of Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout dens in Luzerne County are hosted by religious organizations, and the two denominations most involved – Catholic and Methodist – both say homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
On Monday, BSA announced the national board is set to vote next week on a proposal to eliminate a national ban on gays and leave the decision up to local units. In an email, NEPA Rainbow Alliance Executive Director John Dawe said: The Boy Scouts' new policy moves them from the top discriminatory organization down a notch to ‘one of the' top discriminatory groups, Dawe wrote. Rather than take responsibility for making scouting an inclusive organization, the national organization has now left it up to local sponsors to be the ‘bad-guy' when it comes to discrimination.
But Northeast Pennsylvania Council Scout Executive Marcel Cinquina noted the decision of appointing Scout leaders and staff has always rested in the hands of the local units, subject to background checks and meeting national criteria. The proposed change would eliminate sexual preference as a national litmus test, leaving it a local matter – as most criteria already are.
That's always been the policy, to leave the decision of who's selected as leaders up to local organizations, Cinquina said. We've had specific churches say they want only a man, or they want someone from their church, and we've had some who don't care where the leaders come from.
Cinquina said reaction to the proposed change has been mixed so far. We have some people who are happy with it and some that are angry, he said, adding that he had received no feedback as of Tuesday from area churches.
According to the BeAScout website, churches host 12 of 20 troops in Wilkes-Barre and surrounding communities. The impact of the proposal – if it is approved – might hinge on whether the hierarchy in those churches leaves the decision up to each parish.
If the Roman Catholic Church decided no church could host a troop in the wake of such a decision, for example, five troops in Wyoming Valley would disappear or have to look for new sponsors.
Asked about the Scout proposal, Diocese of Scranton spokesman Bill Genello sent an email response: Organizations affiliated with the Diocese of Scranton, its parishes and institutions are expected to function in harmony with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church teaches that all people, including those of various sexual orientations, must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
It is hoped that the Boy Scouts will continue to abide by the Christian principles under which they were founded. The Diocese of Scranton will continue to monitor the decisions to be made by the Boy Scouts.
Cinquina said the new system theoretically would allow those who oppose gays in troops to find a troop that sticks to the old policy, while those who support the idea can look for a troop that accepts them. At this point I don't see this as being a huge thing, he said. We'll have to wait and see what happens.
If approved, the change would be implemented June 1, Cinquina said.