Just a week after President Barack Obama made ending anti-gay discrimination a central message of his inaugural address, the Boy Scouts of America provided more evidence that greater acceptance and inclusion is becoming a social norm.
In a surprise move Monday, the organization said it is considering ending its policy of barring gay boys from membership and gay and lesbian adults from serving as leaders. In July, it had reaffirmed its retrograde policy as reflecting its "beliefs and perspectives."
Sadly, though, the change the organization is contemplating falls far short of the clear and strong renunciation of anti-gay bigotry that is called for. It said it would no longer "dictate" an anti-gay policy to local Scouting groups, but would let them decide whether to permit participation by openly gay people.
In other words, whether to persist in barring gay youngsters and their families would become a local option: an unprincipled position that would continue to send a message that discrimination is perfectly acceptable even if it is no longer mandatory under national Boy Scouts rules.
Such a partial move should hardly satisfy former donors who have been repelled by the Scouts' discriminatory ways. And such a stance will not resolve the quandary faced by parents who want the positive experiences that Scouting offers but are appalled by anti-gay bigotry.
The new policy would, however, undermine the rationale the Supreme Court voiced in 2000 when it affirmed the right of the Scouts to discriminate against gay people. The 5-4 ruling turned on the court's acceptance of the Scouts' claim that being anti-gay was a "core" part of its mission and that its freedom of association right trumped any state nondiscrimination rules. Of course, much has changed since that decision -- including the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and the ability of gay people to serve openly in the military.
Now that the group is on the verge of making discrimination optional, it can no longer claim that discrimination is a "core" purpose -- and therefore state nondiscrimination rules should apply to the Scouts. The halfway policy change would inevitably invite litigation.
The national executive board of the Boy Scouts will be considering the proposed change next week. Board members should reject the idea of allowing local chapters to continue to exclude gay Scouts and troop leaders. Instead, the board should establish a firm anti-discrimination policy and make clear its determination to see that the principle is followed at the local level.
If the Boy Scouts of America is serious about repairing its bigoted image and serving all boys and their families, further discrimination cannot be an option.