Republican lawmakers are reluctant to weigh in on the Boy Scouts of America’s decision on whether to open its ranks to gays, which was delayed on Wednesday until May.
President Obama earlier this week called on the Scouts to include gay members, but Republicans asked about the issue on Wednesday generally tried to steer clear, highlighting the political sensitivity of the issue.
“I think the people of the 5th District of Texas elected me to handle congressional matters — I have opinions that I choose to keep to myself,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a former Eagle Scout. “I will go on the record and say that scouting is an excellent program.”
Some Democrats also are avoiding weighing in on the issue.
“I think it should be left up to the Boy Scouts,” said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), an ex- Scout who has also served as an adult volunteer for the organization.
Asked if he had an opinion himself, Dingell responded: “Not at this time.”
The Boy Scouts on Wednesday said they would put off a decision on whether to allow gay members after some local councils asked for a more extensive review of the policy.
“After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,” the group announced in a statement.
The decision is now expected in May of this year, and will be decided by the organization’s full 1,400-member national council.
The Scouts have been under pressure to change their policies excluding gays for more than a decade, but it has become especially intense in recent years.
On Sunday, the president said “nobody should be barred from the opportunities and experiences provided by scouting.”
“My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life,” Obama said in a CBS News interview. “The Scouts are a great institution that are promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives.”
Congress is full of male lawmakers who grew up as Cub Scouts, and the House and Senate include at least 24 former Eagle Scouts — the highest honor earned in the organization.
Several of the Eagles Scouts-turned-lawmakers say they cherish their time in the organization, in which several continue to remain active.
But most did not want to offer opinions on whether the Boy Scouts should allow gays and lesbians to serve as scouts or as parent leaders.
There were a few exceptions, however.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), an Eagle Scout, expressed support for allowing individual chapters to decide whether they would have gay members.
“I think that the way they are proceeding to allow the individual organizations to make that decision is probably best for the organization’s future,” said Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), who volunteered as a parent leader when his son was going through Boy Scouts, said the organization should continue to exclude gays.
“I was a Boy Scout, my son was a Boy Scout — it’s been a long-standing position of the Boy Scouts — I think they are going to find that things get very confused for them and it’s going to cause a lot of dissension,” he said of the proposal to allow individual chapters to allow gays.
“I don’t think it’s a good choice for them but it’s not my decision. They are allowed to make that decision themselves,” Kline said.
More typical were House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) comments.
McCarthy, who was not a Boy Scout, said he’d rather wait to hear the organization’s decision before offering his own opinion.
“They’re a private organization and they have to manage their organization. And to make sure they manage it in a proper way, they have to protect the people that are a part of it and make sure they don’t discriminate at the same time,” the No. 3 House Republican said. “I’m sure they’re going to work through it. They’ve got a tremendous tradition.”
Some have suggested allowing individual chapters to vote on whether to admit gays could undermine the 2000 Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case. That 5-4 ruling found that the organization could exclude gays as part of their right to association, noting that as a group, the organization had made disapproval of homosexuality part of its value system.
But legal scholars, including those who opposed the court’s initial decision, disagreed. Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University who wrote a book critical of the Supreme Court decision, said even without the umbrella protections afforded by the national organization, individual groups would still be able to exclude gays.
“They can no longer invoke national policy, but if they still want to exclude they can invoke their own policies, and that would likely stand up in court,” Koppelman said.
Justin Sink contributed to this story.