Our Eagle Scout Badges Helped Prepare Us for (Same-Sex) Marriage

When the authors stood on a hilltop and pledged their lives to each other, they also recited the Scout Law. Here's why they still believe in the group's core ideals.

eagle-scout-wedding.jpgJ. Justin Wilson and Steven Seigel recite the Scout Law during their 2011 wedding.

Two years ago this summer, we took a vow of marriage. And when we did, we not only pledged to love one another forever, we also recited the Scout Law: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Although it has been more than a decade since we both earned our Eagle Scout badges, we can still recite that mantra from memory. So it seemed like an obvious choice for our marriage vows—those values embodied the essence of what we learned as scouts, and they continue to guide our conduct today.

For us, earning our Eagle was about much more than learning to tie knots or build a fire in the rain. Although those are important skills scouts learn along the way, at its core, the Boy Scouts is about imparting the amorphous but critical skill of leadership. The basic premise of scouting is to build a future generation of leaders, to grow a cadre of young men who embody the moral and ethical virtues of a society and have the capacity to mobilize those values for good.

How, then, is this skill imparted to ragtag groups of young boys? By letting them learn for themselves. Boy Scouts affirms the autonomy of youth by allowing young men to make their own choices, to take responsibility for planning, training, doing, and most importantly learning from their mistakes.

The weekend we proposed to each other, we pondered what role, if any, the Boy Scouts would play in our lives if we ended up adopting a son.

This week, the 77-member National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts missed an opportunity to demonstrate that the organization itself can learn from its past mistakes. Instead of demonstrating leadership on the issue of allowing gays in scouts, the Board deferred the decision and abdicated responsibility to the 1,400 voting members of the National Council.

As any critic is likely to point out, the Boy Scouts of America does not have a good track record of leadership with respect to America's struggle with equality. It took nearly a decade after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 before the last scout troop desegregated. By once again shirking their responsibility to set an example as leaders, and instead following the will of the majority, the inevitable result is continued embarrassment and social isolation. Most problematically, this decision will erode the confidence of millions of American parents who increasingly view the BSA as out of step with our society's deep commitment to tolerance and equal respect.

As potential parents, we, too, doubt that the institution's moral edifice can persist under a continued posture of discrimination. The chilly November weekend that we proposed to each other, we were backpacking along a lone ridge in the Massanutten mountain range when we came across the only other group of people braving the cold that weekend—a scout troop from Virginia. After they passed, we pondered what role, if any, the Boy Scouts would play in our lives if we ended up adopting a son. We resented the idea that a child of ours would be told, from day one, that his parents were morally deficient — so much so that they could not be trusted to participate in the day-to-day activities of scouts.

Such a message is not worthy of scouting's commitment to leadership. On the contrary, it is a moral dictate by certain BSA leaders that does not even pay lip service to the norms of kindness, tolerance, and respect that are the lifeblood of the scouting organization. It sends the message to gay youths that they are morally repugnant, deserving of ostracism and expulsion. All of this perverts the underlying goals of an organization designed to empower and inspire young men.

The choice the BSA faces is not an easy one, but leadership isn't always easy. Admitting gay scouts and scoutmasters would advance the organization's goals in ways that are true to its core objectives. It would emphasize the importance of self-knowledge and encourage young men in their struggle to figure out what is right and wrong, helping them develop a life-long commitment to truth, goodness, humanity, generosity, and respect.

Presented by

Steven Seigel and J. Justin Wilson

Steven Seigel is a former USAID development consultant, now at Yale Law School. J. Justin Wilson is a senior research analyst in Washington, D.C. Both are Eagle Scouts.

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