Democracy Tree: Boy Scout ban on LGBT leaders on its way out

by Amy Kerr HardinDSCN0444-150x150

Feb. 8 – 14 is the official 2015 Boy Scout Week in Michigan, celebrating an organization with a long history of discrimination against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. Until very recently, Boy Scouts of America prohibited gay membership. The 103-year-old ban was lifted on Jan. 1st of this year.
However, gay leaders are still not allowed.
California Takes the Lead
Last week, the California Supreme Court issued a ground-breaking ruling prohibiting members of the state’s judiciary from Boy Scout membership because the group continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian leadership. California is one of 23 states whose judicial code of conduct prohibits judges from belonging to any organization that discriminates based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Starting Jan. 16, 2016 judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts will be in violation of the code of ethics and subjeScoutmasterct to disciplinary action, including removal from office.
Michigan — Behind the Times
Michigan’s Judicial Code of Conduct does not protect individuals based on sexual orientation. It is unlikely the code will be updated to reflect modern views of civil liberties unless there’s movement on the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The code currently reads:
“A judge should not allow activity as a member of an organization to cast doubt on the judge’s ability to perform the function of the office in a manner consistent with the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, the laws of this state, and the Michigan and United States Constitutions. A judge should be particularly cautious with regard to membership activities that discriminate, or appear to discriminate, on the basis of race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic. Nothing in this paragraph should be interpreted to diminish a judge’s right to the free exercise of religion.”
Michigan lawmakers must take action before the judiciary would feel compelled to do so. Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced legislation to amend Elliot-Larsen during each session she has served over the past nine years.
Municipalities Step Up
Warren remains hopeful because so many local units of government in Michigan have passed ordinances to protect LGBT civil rights. As of last year, 35 municipalities have stepped up with local laws. With 75 percent of the state’s population in favor of amending the law, it’s only a matter of time. Speaking to a group of local and national LGBT organizations last week, Warren described the momentum:
“It’s often said that the states become the incubators for the federal government. And here we find that sometimes the localities, or municipal governments, become the incubators for the state, and they can push policy up to us.”
Ohio Boy Scout Council Takes Action
A local Boy Scout Council in Ohio acted on their own to lift the leadership ban in defiance of the national organization’s policy. The Simon Kenton Boys Scout Council serves about 20,000 members in 17-counties across the Buckeye State. It is unclear what action, if any, their parent organization will take in response to their move. As expected, there was some backlash from religious leaders, and a withdrawal of support for the regional organization, but they are standing firm with their decision — the intention being to spark a larger conversation. Jen Koma, spokesperson for the Simon Kenton Council spoke with The Columbus Dispatch:
“It’s a sensitive topic, and we’ve tried to be sensitive,” Koma said, adding that the council is still bound by national policies that ban gay adults from being Scout leaders.
The group wants to work with other councils “through proper channels” to ultimately bring about change to the national-membership policy, she said.
The arc of the moral universe is bending — Michigan has some catching-up to do.

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