Most Utah Boy Scout leaders against lifting gay ban

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:25 AM

Brady McCombs

SALT LAKE CITY — More than four out of five Boy Scout leaders in the Salt Lake City area say they are opposed to Boy Scouts of America lifting its ban on gays, a new survey shows.

Nearly half said they would quit the Boy Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted, according to results of a survey of 4,700 adults involved in the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council. The respondents included leaders and parents.

The council is one of the largest in the country, with 5,500 troops and 73,400 youth members. Nearly all of the troops, 99 percent to be exact, are sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scouts are celebrating 100 years in Utah this year.

“We just want to be what we’ve always been,” said Rick Barnes, executive of the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council. “That’s what the people in Utah are saying: stick to the traditional family values. It’s a pretty clear message.”

The Boy Scouts national executive board is currently mulling a proposal to move away from its no-gays membership policy or create a local option that would give the decision to the individual troops.

“We are in the listening phase of this process, where councils are providing valuable feedback like this report,” Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said.

He said the Utah survey results, along with others from nearly 290 local councils, will be included in a report to the executive board.

The Scouts independently distributed a questionnaire to 1.1 million adult Scouts across the country earlier this month. The survey uses fictional situations to discern where Scouting’s membership falls on questions of homosexuality, gays camping with children and gays in church leadership. It allowed adult Scouts to indicate a range of feelings, from strong support to strong opposition to the ban on gays. The Scouts haven’t said whether they will distribute the results of that survey.

The Great Salt Lake Council’s survey shows 83 percent say they are against lifting the ban on gays; and 48 percent say they would quit Boy Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted. Another 23 percent say they would cut back their involvement in Scouts.

“The folks here understand that really what is going on here is a battle for core values,” Barnes said. “Are we who we say we are — an organization that instills family values? Or, are we just an outdoor program not based on those values?”

Asked if Utah would be ripe for a spinoff Scouting organization if the proposal goes through, Barnes said he has no idea and hadn’t yet thought about that.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing for as long as we can,” Barnes said.

The results aren’t particularly surprising in the conservative state of Utah and considering how many troops are Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful.

In December, however, the LDS church launched a website encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality. The website instructs Mormons to be loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.

Mormon church officials and leaders in the Boy Scouts’ Great Salt Lake Council applauded the February decision by the Scouts to take more time to push back its decision regarding the proposal to May.

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