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Leaders of the Boy Scouts of America really only have one reason for holding on to their policy excluding openly homosexual people from participating in their organization as members, leaders or volunteers. And it is all the reason they need.

They want to.

As a private organization, unaffiliated with any government agency, not funded by any tax-collecting entity, the Scouts have every right to accept and reject as members anyone they want. They do not have to have any legal, logical, moral or ethical stance underpinning their decision. The U.S. Supreme Court, quite reasonably, said so in 2000.

That doesn't mean that the decision, announced Tuesday after a two-year review by members of a previously secret — and still anonymous — committee, isn't a huge disappointment.

The Scouts have made a decision that will marginalize an otherwise useful organization in a growing number of communities across the nation. They will lose members, sponsors, fundraising partners and, in some jurisdictions, they may face moves to deny them access to public facilities.

Those are the kinds of things that people often risk when they stand on principle, and the organization's leaders are probably clear-eyed about the chances they are taking. But the BSA is also giving up a huge opportunity to live up to its name and its stated ethos of helping their charges to be "Prepared. For life."

By clinging to an increasingly outmoded world view, one that many families will see as deliberately and needlessly hurtful to worthy human beings, the Scouts are not scouting new trails. They are digging themselves a hole and refusing to come out because they are scared of what they might find.

And what might they find? Perfectly well-adjusted people of all ages, people who would benefit from, and be a useful addition to, any Scout troop. People — relatives, friends, neighbors — who will be pointlessly excluded from an organization that, for 112 years, has been devoted to strengthening the very bonds that it will now go out of its way to break.

The particularly hurtful aspect of this decision, unspoken by Scout officials, is that it tacitly, but strongly, clings to the thoroughly discredited idea that gay men are somehow more likely to be pedophiles who will molest the young Scouts or lead them otherwise astray.

In this case, it is the Scout officials who are leading their charges astray, by promoting a policy that gives in to fear.

It is completely legal. And it is sad.

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