By Casey Wian and Holly Yan
IRVING, Texas (CNN) — The polarizing debate over whether Boy Scouts of America should allow gay members could culminate with a vote on a new policy Wednesday.
But no matter which way the vote goes, activists on both sides aren’t going to be satisfied.
The controversy pits leaders of religious groups that sponsor about 1 million Boy Scouts against activists who want the organization to end its ban on openly gay Scouts and Scout leaders.
Representatives from both camps aren’t happy with a proposal to let local troops decide if they want to allow gay members.
“What they’ve said to us and to other religious leaders is that they are doing this under pressure, and we’re going to give people what basically amounts to a local option,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You can’t have a local option of a core conviction.”
Brad Hankins of Scouts for Equality also sees problems with passing the decision to local troops.
“We don’t want to see scouting gerrymandered into blue and red districts. So the best solution would be to end discrimination outright,” he said.
The Boy Scouts of America has 2.7 million members nationwide. More than 70% of troops are affiliated with church or religious groups.
The debate has ignited a firestorm of comments on CNN.com and social media.
“Hopefully the BSA will make the decision to be more inclusive! I enjoyed my time as a scout, but would not want my future children to join an organization that doesn’t promote equality,” said Cole Fuller, one of thousands of readers who have shared their views in the comments sections of CNN.com stories.
Other readers slammed the organization for considering the change and criticized gay rights advocates for pushing for it.
“Take a challenge and create your own organization with gay ideals, but don’t ever force or coerce a child and don’t force us to say your lifestyle is acceptable,” said another poster, identified as Dave McFarland.
By Wednesday morning, the Boy Scouts of America Facebook page had more than 27,000 comments on the issue.
“Stick (to) the core values, Boy Scouts is not for everyone,” Adam Stoltzfus said.
Danny Kane disagreed: “We have an organization for all. It’s called the Boy Scouts of America. Segregation is not an American value.”
No lesbian den mothers
The existing policy came under fire last year after Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio den leader, was dismissed by her local Boy Scout troop for being a lesbian.
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that Boy Scouts of America has a constitutional right to oppose homosexuality in its ranks.
“Forcing a group to accept certain members may impair the ability of the group to express those views, and only those views, that it intends to express,” then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote after the court’s 5-4 decision. He added that the decision was not meant to approve or condemn the Scouts’ view on homosexuality.
But Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, says the ban on gays has backfired.
When he was 10, Wahls’ Cub Scout pack had to find a new home because the BSA’s policy violated the school’s nondiscrimination rules.
“I was confused, because my den mother, Jackie — who is my actual mother — was a lesbian, and nobody in our unit had any issue with that,” Wahls wrote. “… But some parents pulled their kids from the pack, uncomfortable with entrusting their sons to an organization they believed engaged in discrimination.”
Conservative groups take action
Changing the policy against having openly gay leaders or scouts “would be a grave mistake,” the conservative Family Research Council and dozens of other groups said in a half-page ad in USA Today this week.
The message called on the Boy Scouts to “show courage” and “stand firm for timeless values.”
“Every American who believes in freedom of thought and religious liberty should be alarmed by the attacks upon the Boy Scouts, who have had core convictions about morality for 100 years,” the ad said. “Every Scout takes an oath to keep himself ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts have every right to include sexual conduct in how they define that term.”
Even before the recent controversy over admitting gays, Boy Scouts of America has seen a decline in membership, which has dropped by about one-third since 1999.
Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, said allowing gays would be a “catastrophe,” with more than 1 million Boy Scouts belonging to troops sponsored by Mormon, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches.
He said if BSA changes its policy, many of those Scouts “are going to vote with their feet. They’re going to leave the Scouts.”
But mother Jen Traeger said the opposite is already happening.
“This national policy of exclusion and rejection of gay members is the main reason we won’t put our very young son in scouts, even though it is in many other ways a worthy experience,” she wrote on BSA’s Facebook page. “We don’t want our child to be in an organization that says that some people ar(e) better than others based on orientation, or that might kick him out after all his time and work if he himself turns out to be gay in 12 years.”
CNN’s Casey Wian reported from Irving, Texas, and Holly Yan wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and Devon Sayers also contributed to this report.
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