Alaska lawmakers weigh in on Boy Scouts gay ban

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- The House Monday weighed in on the debate over opening the Boy Scouts to gay members and scoutmasters, but its statement in support of traditional values was so vague that no one objected to the measure clearing the floor.

In a brief discussion in the House, the words "gay" or "homosexual" were never uttered.

The "sense of the House" measure -- a statement of opinion without the force of law, not even rising to the level of a formal resolution -- voiced support of the "core values and beliefs" of the Boy Scouts. It described the organization as "a standard-bearer for the development of character, leadership and patriotism of the young men of Alaska and the United States of America."

Whatever it said about scouting, the measure demonstrated how two diametrically opposed sides in a political forum could adopt a single statement on a controversial topic as supporting their beliefs. It came at a time when supporters and opponents of changing the ban are marshaling public opinion in advance of the group's annual national meeting in May, where the question may be decided.

The House measure was proposed by Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Republican from Chugiak. No one spoke on the measure before it cleared the House without objection, but Rep. Max Gruenberg, himself an Eagle Scout, took the floor afterward at a time reserved for House members to speak their minds on almost any topic.

In the past, Gruenberg, an Anchorage Democrat, has said that the Scouts' morale creed should lead it to open scouting to gay boys and adults, as well as to atheists. But in his brief remarks to the House, he said he didn't oppose Stoltze's measure and expressed hope that scouting could resolve the issue in a way that is true to its values.

In a brief interview, Gruenberg said his brother, also an Eagle Scout, is gay.

Stoltze, who said he was never a Boy Scout, followed Gruenberg's remarks by saying he wanted to send a message to the organization that it is "not alone out there" and that it has support in resisting "all the political and economic and social pressure." He said that Scouting was facing "the ravages of political correctness and social dogmas."

Moments later, when the House adjourned, Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat who opposes the Scouts' ban on gays, said, "We read the sense of the House narrowly as being just a generic statement that could have been brought up anytime."

Stoltze said he wrote the measure one morning last week, and worded it in a way that would not "throw five gallons of high octane on the campfire."

While he acknowledged that others could "mold" the sense of the House as they wished, "my interpretation is that I think people understand what we mean when we say 'core values of the Scouts.'" Because Scout troops are frequently housed and sponsored by churches, he wanted to protect them from "the dilemma" they would face if the Scouts changed their polices.

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