The president recently said that people who are openly gay should be able to become Boy Scouts, and even serve as scout leaders. I say it’s none of his business who the Boy Scouts of America admits to its ranks.
In a pre-Super Bowl presidential interview, CBS anchor Scott Palley asked Barack Obama, “Should scouting be open to gays?”
“Yes,” Obama said. “I think that my attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does, in every institution and walk of life.”
That question came at the start of a week when the Boy Scouts of America was considering whether to reverse a long-standing ban on gays within its fold. Given the fact that the group is a private institution, the question, the answer and the timing of both were, in my opinion, improper.
A year ago, a similar issue became the subject of national debate — whether the Augusta National Golf Club should reverse its own long-standing tradition and allow women as members.
My knee-jerk reaction at the time was, “Of course they should!” Women, I reasoned, are wonderful to look at, a pleasure to talk to and their mere presence at any gathering often seems to elevate the conversation and make the event itself seem more civilized.
When women enter the room, suddenly men are no longer Philistines. They become dashing and urbane — or at least they make the effort.
But then I stopped myself. I’m not a member of Augusta, and neither were most of the people entering the debate. I not only lacked a vote in the matter, I also had no voice.
Eventually, Augusta lifted its ban on women, and one of the first it admitted was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I felt really good about that at the time, but I also hoped the club had made the decision because that was truly what it wanted to do and was not a bow to public pressure.
Like with the conversation about the Boy Scouts, no one and no cause is served by making it the subject of public debate.
The subject of gays within a cadre of young boys is, on its own, already divisive and inflammatory. Discussing it on national TV with someone who has never been a Scout only serves to stir the embers and divide those whose vote truly matters — the Scouts themselves.
The question should not have been asked, but once it was, the president should have reminded his interviewer that the Boy Scouts of America is a private organization. As such, it should be allowed to decide its own future free from public pressure.
Had the president done that Sunday, he would have demonstrated a diplomacy that is, so far, lacking in his administration.
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