Politics & Policy

Stonewall Ain’t Birmingham

And other inconvenient truths about the Scouts.

During the Senate debate of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Hubert Humphrey declared that if anyone could find language in the bill that could lead to racial quotas he would “start eating the pages, one after the other, because its not in there.” Thus the story of unintended consequences unfolds. Today, to endorse the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or 1965, is invite charges that you’re a racist.

I wonder if Bill Clinton would have agreed to eat Executive Order13160 had someone said that it would lead to the destruction of the Boy Scouts.

Without rehashing the whole story, the Washington Times reported yesterday that a division of the Interior Department is conducting an inquiry to make sure they aren’t helping that hate group known as the Boy Scouts of America. The Executive Order states that no government agency may participate in “education and training” programs with groups that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, this, that and the other thing — including of course “sexual orientation.” Sounds relatively harmless, right?

In a memo obtained by the Times, something called the Reclamation Bureau wants to make sure that it is in full compliance with the spirit of that order. Of particular concern is the festival of hate known as the Boy Scout Jamboree. So, the bureau’s Civil Rights office asked its officers to “identify and explain” all of its activities with the Boy Scouts, “including but not limited to, the Boy Scout Jamboree.” The Civil Rights office also wants to know if the Bureau sponsors any troops or provides any awards or patches to the Scouts.

Now, these are not the sorts of questions you ask if you think it’s just fine for the Federal Government to be working with the Boy Scouts. They are more like being asked by your new cell mate, “Did you bring any cigarettes?” or “Do you bruise easily?” The questions telegraph the intent.

The Clinton administration and the Gore campaign — or is it the other way around? — are already playing the difficult game of distancing themselves from the politically horrific idea of a federal boycott on the Scouts and the financial and philosophically terrifying prospect of pissing off the gay and Hollywood lobbies. Gore’s spokesman Chris Lehane — the only known robot-elf in captivity — told the Times, “Throughout society, we ought to look for ways to guarantee there’s no discrimination,” but “with respect to this specific action, I’d have to look and see what they’re doing.”

I’m sure this is the sort of thing some flunkey from the Johnson Administration said when the first racial quotas came down the pike, long after people forgot that Hubert Humphrey’s diet was on the line.

It seems to me there are three basic assumptions that often determine where a person comes down about the role of gays in society. The first is that gays are “deviant” or sinful and therefore deserve little public accommodation. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe they make up this generation’s civil-rights movement, deserving not merely of equal treatment but of celebration. According to this view, homosexuality is no more relevant to someone’s status than skin color and criticism of any kind is the moral equivalent of racism.

The middle position, my position, is that gays are full citizens deserving respect and dignity and the rest, but they are also different from heterosexuals in ways more significant than skin color. Skin color describes…well, skin color. It is by definition skin deep. But homosexuality is behavioral.

I don’t know if, as a matter of ethics or morality, it is more or less wrong to leap to a conclusion based on someone’s skin color or on someone’s sexual status. But I am confident that they are very different things. Gay activists would have us believe that there is no difference between barring a gay man from the Boy Scouts and barring a black man from the Boy Scouts.

But why does the analogy always have to be with blacks? Is it hateful bigotry that deaf people can’t be Scout Leaders? Or is it simply discrimination devoid of moral content? Maybe there’s some legitimate moral rationale to barring gays from the Scouts — on both sides of the question — but not enough to trump the constitutional right of groups to associate freely. The freedom of gays is important, but so is the freedom of thousands of young men and their parents who want to join the Scouts the way it is.

Earlier this week the New York Times (the other Times) ran a front-page story hyping the alleged backlash against the Boy Scouts. According to the Times, various municipalities and jurisdictions are barring scouts from using public resources. Well, our very own Melissa Seckora reports today that this may be a deliberate exaggeration. One thing is clear, the Times and the coastal elites believe that when it comes to gays, any views which differ from their own are bigoted — despite the fact that a majority of Americans support the Scouts’ policy.

This shouldn’t surprise. Last Spring, Richard Berke, the New York Times’ highly influential political reporter told a conference that “there are times when you look at the front-page meeting [of the New York Times] and . . . literally three-quarters of the people deciding what’s on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals. . . .”

Presumably the decision to put “Scouts’ Successful Ban on Gays Is Followed by Loss in Support” on the front page, above the fold came out of one of those meetings. In the article, the author approvingly passes on an anonymous comment about how the Scouts are “almost un-American.” Meanwhile, activists want the president to resign his honorary chairmanship of the Scouts because of the no-open-gays policy. It’s an ironic way of seeing things since the Boy Scout approach is pretty much identical to the policy of the U.S. military, which Bill Clinton is nominally in charge of too. Then again, I thought he should have resigned that position a long time ago.


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