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Obama joins Romney in opposing Boy Scout gay ban

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

August 9th, 2012

In 1994, Mitt Romney took a position in opposition to the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay scouts and said:

I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.

On Saturday, the Romney Campaign confirmed that “this remains Romney’s position today.”

Yesterday, President Obama joined his opponent in expressing his disagreement with the policy: (CSMonitor)

“The president believes the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century,” the White House statement said. “He also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on basis of sexual orientation.”

The Boy Scouts responded with a brief statement from their national headquarters in Irving, Texas.

“The Boy Scouts of America respects the opinions of President Obama and appreciates his recognition that Scouting is a valuable organization,” it said. “We believe that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to accomplish the common good.”

I feel disappointed. President Obama’s position is weaker and more conciliatory than that of Mitt Romney. The President basically validated the “oh we can all disagree amiably” nonsense that the BSA has been throwing at the media. The existence of gay people, our validity as human, whether one’s innate attractions makes them inherently immoral, that’s all just a matter of opinion. Good people can disagree about that, you see.

No. They cannot.

This is not about a controversial issue, or even one for which counter arguments can be presented. This isn’t about whether civil unions provide adequate protection. It isn’t about military unit cohesion. It isn’t even about adoption policy.

This is about whether gay people can be let in the door. It’s just plain unvarnished discrimination: we won’t let you in because we don’t like you. That’s it. And I’m sorry, Mr. President, but both sides of that opinion are not equally moral. This is not an agree to disagree situation.

Either it is immoral and wrong to exclude gay youth for no reason other than their orientation, or it is not. And if it is immoral and wrong – so immoral and wrong that a growing number of people with deep devotion to the Scouts are breaking a tie that means the world to them – then a moral person cannot dismiss this so cavalierly.

I respect and appreciate the President. He has taken steps that have greatly advanced our equality. But it frustrates me to no end that every effort, every step has been long after others in his party have advanced and – in some instances – after Republicans have already gotten there. It should embarrass the President to lag behind Dick Cheney or Ted Olson; it should shame him to lag behind Mitt Romney.

President Obama, like all US Presidents over the past century, is the token president of the Boy Scouts. We know – there is absolutely zero question about it – that if the Boy Scouts banned members based on race that the President would refuse to hold that title. He would step away from the organization and explain that as President of all Americans in the political life of the country that he cannot be president of only some Americans in the life of scouting.

How is this different?

UPDATE: Mitt Romney’s full 1994 quote was:

“I believe that the Boy Scouts of America does a wonderful service for this country. I support the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue. I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

I was unaware of the “wonderful service” component of that quote which makes the two statements much more similar, though 18 year apart.

Comments

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JB
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

If I’m not mistaken, the full quotation (or at least a fuller excerpt of it) by Romney on the Boy Scouts goes something like this: “I support the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue. I feel that all people should be able to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

When you put the first sentence together with the second, which your commentary does not, it seems to me a lot harder to justify the argument that Obama’s position is “more conciliatory” than Romney’s.

It’s also worth noting that Romney simply reaffirmed his 1994 position. He did not use the current controversy as an occasion for a new, emphatic statement against the BSA’s discriminatory practices. Maybe that’s not much of a difference, but in my view it weakens Romney’s statement of opposition.

Do I wish that Obama had condemned the BSA policy more roundly? Of course. But the claim that his opposition is so much weaker than Romney’s seems specious at best.

In fact, this whole “look how far Obama is behind Republicans” meme is pretty tiresome. Yes, Dick Cheney publicly supported gay marriage before Obama. But did he act on that affirmation in any way during his (err, I mean Bush’s) administration? No. In fact, he has recently stated that he delayed making his support of gay marriage public as a political calculation. So yeah, he beat Obama to the punch, but it’s hard to see too much difference between both men’s carefully calculated actions, beyond the fact that Obama has actually acted on his statements (e.g., stopped defending DOMA) in ways that Cheney to my knowledge has not. (If I’m wrong on the latter point, I’m happy to be corrected.)

TampaZeke
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

Wow Timothy, your cut and paste version of Romney’s FULL statement is unworthy of you.

Here’s what Romney actualy said:

“I believe that the Boy Scouts of America does a wonderful service for this country. I support the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue. I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.”

You seem to have left off the first part of that quote. Of course if you hadn’t you wouldn’t have been able to claim that “President Obama’s position is weaker and more conciliatory than that of Mitt Romney”.

You would scream bloody murder if any of us had done such a thing.

TampaZeke
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

Sorry, JB, I didn’t see your comment before I made the same point.

TampaZeke
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

JB, I would make the point that Obama probably supported marriage equality before Cheney but that he also held out making his support public based on political calculations. Cheney was only able to come out earlier because he wasn’t president, just as Obama did BEFORE he was president.

Obama was for it before he was against it before he was for it.

Eric in Oakland
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

“And I’m sorry, Mr. President, but both sides of that opinion are not equally moral.”

Ummm… I think you are addressing the wrong politician.

Romney is the one who suggested that when he said he supported the rights of the BSA to discriminate. Obama did not say anything that could be interpreted that way, at least in the quoted speech.

TampaZeke
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, I would like to add that I completely agree with everything else you said about Obama and the issue outside of the edited Romney quote and the claim that Obama’s statement was weaker and more conciliatory than Romney’s, lest it be claimed that I’m just an Obamabot reflexively defending Obama. I too wish he had made a stronger statement and called injustice “injustice”.

Jim Burroway
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

Context is everything. You gave Obama’s comment in full context, but I’m sorry that you chose to carefully edit Romney’s comment the way you did. It is almost a “You didn’t build that” moment, another sorry affair where a single line was ripped from its surroundings to make it sound like it meant something different. Same thing applies here, and I’m very dissapointed to see it.

F Young
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

“President Obama, like all US Presidents over the past century, is the token president of the Boy Scouts. We know – there is absolutely zero question about it – that if the Boy Scouts banned members based on race that the President would refuse to hold that title. He would step away from the organization and explain that as President of all Americans in the political life of the country that he cannot be president of only some Americans in the life of scouting.

How is this different?”

Good point. I have not seen it anywhere else. Obviously, the difference is that Blacks are far more powerful and critical to Obama than GBTs are, and anti-LGBTs are far more powerful than racists. It would be political suicide.

Your post brings up another issue. The scouts being a religious group in the USA (unlike in some other countries), one could argue that the President of the USA being ex-officio honorary president of the scouts violates the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.

TampaZeke
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

Romney being an influential Mormon gives him much more authority/sway over the Mormo-Catho Boy Scouts’ policies than Obama’s US Presidency.

But that doesn’t fit the meme either.

Marcus
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

We know – there is absolutely zero question about it – that if the Boy Scouts banned members based on race that the President would refuse to hold that title. He would step away from the organization and explain that as President of all Americans in the political life of the country that he cannot be president of only some Americans in the life of scouting.

Well, in 2012, he probably would. In 1962, which would be a more accurate comparison? Very possibly not.

Erp
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

And in 1962 large parts of the Boy Scouts did discriminate. Officially it wasn’t fully ended until 1974 when the LDS changed their policy of restricting senior patrol leader and similar leadership positions in their troops to priesthood holders (a position the BSA supported). Young Mormon men expect to become priesthood holders in their early teens but until 1978 Blacks could not be priesthood holders so until 1974 no Black youth could be senior patrol leader or equivalent in a LDS chartered troop (admittedly very few Blacks in those days were likely to have joined a LDS troop).

A bit like the apparent policy before the most recent statement from the BSA that gay youth could be members but could not hold leadership positions. Now of course they aren’t allowed at all.

Soren456
August 9th, 2012 | LINK

The writer–like David Barton–has a history here of partial quotes and misused quotes. I wonder why he is allowed to remain.

Timothy Kincaid
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

I erred in quoting Romney. I knew he said that he supports the right of the Boy Scouts to make their own rules ( I do too) but was unaware of the “contribution” conciliatory comments that were mirrored 18 years later by the President. Guess I should have used a source other than GLAAD.

Timothy Kincaid
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Soren – its probable because unlike Barton – and most other non-BTB bloggers, if I misquote, I own it.

And probably because while its natural to filter every story through whether it confirms your political alliances, you know – like everyone knows – that while i have opinions, I don’t lie to you, deliberately leave out integral parts of the story or shade the facts so as to deceive. That’s why you read it, Soren, because you know I don’t write BS. Even when you think my perspective is wrong, you know I’m not untruthful.

That’s (forgive me fellow bloggers) relatively rare in the blogosphere. Most write to sway opinion. And while we do want to get our point across, this is one of those very rare places where you know that it’s either true or that our error was an honest one. (which doesn’t make it okay – I hate getting fooled into repeating a partial quote – but it does mean that we are accountable.)

So if you want someone who will never ever stray from talking points or tell you something you don’t want to hear, your at the wrong place. Because no one who writes here fits that profile.

Timothy Kincaid
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

(and maybe I don’t know the meaning of ‘meme’ but doesn’t it have to be thematic or at least used more than once and repeated? I may be mistaken but I think I’m the only one who made the point I made – whether it was actually accurate it not)

tristram
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

I think Obama has done a masterful job of playing the “long game” to the great benefit of gay equality. In our fight and other contexts, he has sometimes been ridiculed for “leading from behind,” but he has made it work.

There was huge pressure for him to end DADT by executive order, but instead he did the groundwork necessary to get buy-in from the military leaders and give the swing-vote Senators the cover they needed to do the right thing. So we got a permanent, bipartisan policy change that was implemented with very little controversy or resistance.

His ‘evolution’ on marriage equality may have seemed disingenuous (I don’t think it was, but it quite surely involved a degree of political calculation.) But it also has empowered a lot of people with anti-equality backgrounds (or people with somewhat homophobic constituencies/fanbases) to change their positions as well.

And the whole time, he has opposed the various anti-equality referendums and worked effectively to circumvent and eventually eliminate Section 3 of DOMA.

As regards the Boy Scouts, I think Obama has a better chance of influencing their policy by retaining the honorary position than if he were to resign it. And I cannot conceive that Romney would do better under any circumstances.

(I do think there’s something to the comment above about the establishment clause issue that is raised by having the POTUS act as honorary anything of a quasi-religious organization like BSA.)

Andrew
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Umm… I’m not really seeing the problem with Obama’s statement.

Boy Scouts has been a valuable organization and has done a lot of good.

Their anti-gay policy is discriminatory, and it should be opposed.

There’s nothing there about “good people can agree to disagree” – those are your words, not Obama’s. Implicit in his statement is that the anti-gay ban is not the sum totality of the organization, its history, or its members. Baby and bathwater.

And, based on the Constitution, the small group of white men who constitute national leadership of the BSA have the right to make bigoted asses of themselves as long as they retain that policy, because they have the right to determine the membership of a private organization. And face the consequences, which Scouting surely has, and, rightly will continue to do so.

The President really shouldn’t comment further than he did there – to comment explicitly on a private organization operating within their Constitutional privileges… I know I don’t want any sitting president commenting forcefully on my exercise of Freedom of Religion, or Freedom of Speech – it’s just not his place to do so.

Honestly, I get the sense here that there’s a lot of painting with a broad brush here – a lot of ignorance of Scouting at the level where it matters (the kids) and a lot of “we don’t care, we just want Boy Scouts of America to burn to the ground”.

I get that we’re angry and indignant, and we’re right to be. But I think it’s far more productive to pressure Boy Scouts to bend to the inevitable and give up this rule than it is to gleefully dance over everything negative happening involving Scouting. It’s the leadership who are the problem, not the thousands of active boyscouts. For example, watching young men give up their hard-earned Eagle medals is heartbreaking to anyone who knows how hard they worked for it. Not that they aren’t principled to do so… just that reveling over how many Eagle Scouts have made a very difficult and personal choice is, well, more than a little unseemly. (Also, given that 300,000 boys earned the Scout badge in the 1990′s alone, it’s remarkably close to NOM’s gleeful (and silly) boycott signature counting… I really rather expect more of folks here.)

Rather than gleefully hoping all that is good is lost for the less that is bad, we can be bigger men and women and continue to make our case that Scouting and anti-gay policies are, in fact, antithetical to each other. Because when Scouting gets their act together, there’s a lot it can teach the next generation of boys about being accepting (not just tolerant), even-handed, and respectful of all citizens – those are the values of Scouting that have been there since 1908.

Oh, and for the record, I welcome Tim’s postings. Even when I disagree with him – he operates with integrity and still keeps things thoughtful and provocative.

Also – Erp, I’ve never heard the things you mention in your article, but that’s also the kind of thing which, if true, BSA wouldn’t really make public (and how LDS troops operated historically is likely very different from how non-LDS troops operated)… but can you point me to some reference material?

Soren456
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

I’ll stick with what I said. There’s a history of these “mistakes” (quotation marks are deliberate) by this writer; he admits it in his response. Not admitted is damage to the credibility of the whole blog, and to other writers associated with it. If I were one of those persons, I’d find the writer’s segue from “I” to “our error” especially interesting.

Points are made with real fact, not with altered quotes. Even when those altered quotes are always–swear to God–cleaned up later.

David Roberts
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Soren – its probable because unlike Barton – and most other non-BTB bloggers, if I misquote, I own it.

That’s (forgive me fellow bloggers) relatively rare in the blogosphere. Most write to sway opinion.

I’m not going to get into you blaming GLAAD for your error, but you owe a hell of a lot of good bloggers a really, really big apology right now. 

You are a good writer, Timothy, but for God’s sake get some perspective.

TampaZeke
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

It’s a meme because you have a long history of toting the “Obama/Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans” water. There isn’t a reader here that isn’t painfully aware of it.

…and instead of just “owning” your mistake, as you claim, you typically got bitchy and defensive.

…and, you didn’t just come clean and apologize for your mistake, no, you had to throw GLAAD under the bus as if they were responsible for your edited quote.

…and you expect all of us to believe that when you make an honest mistake it’s an honest mistake and a one-off but when others do it it’s an intentional and nefarious lie.

I agree with David, you’re a good blogger but you’re often a hypocrite who thinks much more highly of yourself than you do others and you don’t know when to quit digging.

Timothy Kincaid
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

I wasn’t under the impression that I’m implying that Democrats are as bad as Republicans. I know that isn’t true – not even close – so I don’t want to give that impression.

But I do comment when I think a Democrat isnt living up to promise or potential. I probably even do so more than when a Republican does something identical because it just isn’t news when the unfriendly party is unfriendly. And besides I don’t think it’s the goal of Democrats to be the same as Republicans on matters of equality so I do hold them to a higher standard.

Also here at BTB we are willing to criticize gay groups, Democrats (including supportive Democrats), and allies. I know that a lot of sites are deeply invested in the culture war and think that you never praise an enemy or fault an ally, but none of us work from that paradigm.

I also know that I’m quick to praise positive steps from Republicans. It irritates the hell out of me when a one-time bitter enemy makes a tentative step in the right direction only to be faced with a wall of resistance, suspicion, and hostility. I like to reward baby steps – on that I’m unlikely to change.

And finally, not everyone will agree with this, but I think that many gay sites carry water for the Democratic Party. To often I read a story that is more spin and positioning than it is fact. So anything I write will stand out in contrast.

Taken together, I can see how that could look like I think the two parties are equal. That isnt the case. And if I’m allowing that perception to exist then I’m clearly not explaining my views well and will have to be more careful going forward.

What I said above isn’t justifying any impression I’m giving. It simply means that I’m failing to position my views correctly and need to be aware of not only words in a vacuum but also of social context.

Timothy Kincaid
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

David,

Are you under the impression that most of the blogosphere is more about honesty than spin? Really?

Those of us who do what we do is fairly rare. XGW may give multisourced and original content, but you know that is not usual. there are hundreds- if not thousands – which exist for no purpose other than to slant, accuse, twist, and lie.

I tend not to spend much time on sites that rush to tell you just how bad the other side is, but even among the sites I read and enjoy regularly, there are those that I know I have to go to external sources for perspective.

Which is why I’m mad at myself to going with the quote from GLAAD’s site. I knew better. I’m not faulting them for doing what they do, but I should have kept looking for original sources.

If you still think I need to appologize to bloggers beyond the more general apology I included, I hereby apologize to anyone who was offended by me pointing out that most of the blogosphere is culture war spin, insinuation, and general bad will.

Priya Lynn
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

“most of the blogosphere is culture war spin, insinuation, and general bad will.”.

Well, on the conservative side anyway.

Andrew
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Priya, I think that “general bad will” typically defines one side (conservatives just seem so damned mean), but the left can be guilty of it as well (although they fall more on the sanctimonious side when they wander into crazyland)… I’ve certainly seen that ANY time I’ve takin a position here that’s either conservative or contrarian and gone up against firm-minded (or closed-minded) left-leaning folks.

It’s far, far too easy to get caught up in our own efforts to persuade – I do it as well, and am no less guilty (but i’m aware of it at least).

But I have to agree with Tim here. And yes – it’s terribly important to hold Dems’ feet to the fire, and yes, that can look like “they’re just as bad”… but context, perspective, and history are really hard to encapsulate here (so it may look like “just as bad” when it really means “bad and not totally good”).

Priya Lynn
August 10th, 2012 | LINK

Yes Andrew, I know the left can be guilty as well but I’d say it happens a great deal more on the right.

Reed
August 11th, 2012 | LINK

So WHAT exactly,will be an adequate
“stepping away?” Issue a memo? Call a full press conference?

Go look up “meme.” Wikipedia, that bastardization/bastion of information, should have a definition.

No need for any apology to anyone. Just put down the big spoon and stop stirring s*** with such vigor. Your “editorial we” is splattering the rest of of mere mortals – and it has lost its train-wreck fascination as it becomes more and more an ordinary occurence.

It has become predictable and boring.

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