The Boy Scouts of America has been all over the map on the issue of gay members and leaders. First, it said it would preserve its policy of excluding homosexuals, which enraged liberals. Then it said it was considering abolishing the policy, which infuriated conservatives.
Now, the organization wants to split the difference and admit gay boys while barring gay leaders. Predictably, that's angered just about everyone. More important, such a policy, if ratified at the Scouts' National Council meeting in mid-May, sends a disturbing message to the gay children now putatively welcome to become Scouts: Come on in, we accept you as you are, just as long as you don't grow up.
The policy emerged after a survey found that although a majority of adults involved with scouting supported the practice of excluding gays, younger parents and teenagers wanted to abolish it. The Boy Scouts are right to worry about this subset given the organization's decreasing cultural relevance as evidenced by decades of declining membership.
The survey also turned up concern among adults about child safety if homosexuals were allowed to become scout leaders. In other words, the poll produced evidence of bigotry. That should have been clear enough to the Scouts given that the experts they consulted informed them that being gay is not a risk factor for child abuse.
The myth of the gay man as pedophile is to be expected: Prejudice dies hard. The scandal is that the Scouts, an organization devoted to building leaders and developing character, gave in to it. The organization is apparently worried that the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches, big sponsors of scout groups, would withdraw support. Yet it's unfathomable that any organization would kowtow to the Catholic Church on an issue of child protection today.
If it approves its Solomonic plan, the Boy Scouts organization is likely to find that even with whatever church support survives the gay-members rule, its relationship with a modern America that is increasingly indifferent to sexual preference will only grow more tenuous. And bigotry doesn't get whitewashed by suspension for the young.
(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)