Scouting Report

I have never engaged in a formal one-on-one debate with anyone on the subject of same-sex marriage, but were such an event to occur, I am fairly certain my line of inquiry would begin with the following challenge:  “Please explain why marriage between a black person and a white person should be legal.”

You see, my thinking is (and long has been) that in making the case for interracial marriage, one makes the case for gay marriage as well.  I understand there are many folks, black and white, who get annoyed when bits of the gay rights movement are likened to bits of the black civil rights movement—they insist any similarities between the two are superficial—but I find the parallels a trifle too linear to ignore.

The most salient point of all—the bottom-est of the bottom lines—is that once one establishes that civil marriage in the United States is and ought to be a union of two consenting adults pledging themselves to each other in good faith forever and ever—nothing more, nothing less—all arguments for limiting the institution to only certain types of people evaporate on contact.

The legalization and subsequent propagation of interracial marriage in America demonstrated the validity of this point, both for itself and for all forms of so-called “non-traditional” marriage thereafter.  We didn’t need to worry about any horrid unintended consequences of marriage between gays—miscegenation had already proved such fears utterly and blessedly unfounded.

I offer this throat clearing because I have just read the survey the Boy Scouts of America is distributing to its scouts and their parents, and in mulling its contents, I have been struck with the most acute sense of déjà vu.

As you must surely have heard, America’s revered coming-of-age organization has faced such concentrated criticism in recent years over its longstanding prohibition on openly gay scouts and scoutmasters, that it is very seriously considering dropping the policy outright in the near future.

To prepare itself for such an eventuality, the Boy Scouts commissioned this new questionnaire to take the temperature of its present membership regarding its views on homosexuality.  While the queries cover a range of hypothetical scenarios, they are essentially different ways of asking the same basic question:  What would actually happen, on a troop-by-troop basis, were the Scouts to welcome open homosexuals into its ranks?

If this all sounds terribly familiar, it might be because it is precisely the same process undertaken by the U.S. Armed Forces in 2010 to ascertain the effects of repealing its own anti-gay policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Like the Boy Scouts today, military leaders wondered how inclusion of gays would affect “unit cohesion.”  They fretted about recruitment and funding.  They broached questions of morality and ethics.  And they were skeptical about upending years and decades of tradition to embark upon a journey with an uncertain destination.

Gay soldiers have now served openly for a year and a half.  While this is far too short of a time span from which to draw definitive conclusions, a think tank called the Palm Center produced an “assessment” one year into DADT’s repeal, which it gleaned “had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts.”

“While repeal produced a few downsides for some military members—mostly those who personally opposed the policy change,” the report expounded, “we identified important upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh advantages.  On balance, DADT repeal appears to have slightly enhanced the military’s ability to do its job by clearing away unnecessary obstacles to the development of trust and bonding.”

From this (admittedly tentative) account, the Boy Scouts can perhaps derive some clues as to how its own adventures in gayification might play out.

While the Boy Scouts of America is no more equivalent to the U.S. military than is same-sex marriage to miscegenation, one is nonetheless compelled to ask:  If the Armed Forces are capable of operating with homosexuals in their midst, why not the Scouts?

Of course, a possible reason the repeal of DADT turned into something of a “non-event”—and a cause to think the prospective inclusion of gays in the Scouts would as well—is the rather inconvenient (and obvious) fact that gay people had served in the military all along, albeit silently.  Perhaps some soldiers and higher-ups convinced themselves to the contrary, certain that any and all traces of gayness had been thoroughly cleansed from their platoons, but they were only fooling themselves and fooling others.

In truth, we already know the Boy Scouts can handle the presence of gays, for it always has.  The choice it faces, then, is whether to continue to engage in an elaborate self-deception, or whether instead to face the world as it really is.  Would the latter not be the more honorable—dare I say, the more meritorious—thing to do?

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