AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Gov. Rick Perry said emphatically Saturday that the Boy Scouts of America shouldn't soften its strict no-gays membership policy, and dismissed the idea of bending the organization to the whims of "popular culture."
Perry is an Eagle Scout and in 2008 he authored the book "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For." It detailed the governor's deep love for the organization and explained why it should continue to embrace traditional, conservative values -- including excluding openly gay members and Scout leaders.
America's longest-serving governor addressed the Texas Scouts' 64th annual Report to State, where hundreds of Scouts from around Texas filled the state House of Representatives to announce their delegation's recent accomplishments.
Perry has addressed the gathering several times before, most recently in 2010, but not since the announcement that the Scouts' national leadership is mulling scrapping the mandatory exclusion of gay members. Instead, the group could allow different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units to decide for themselves how to address the issue -- either maintaining the exclusion or opening up their membership.
Even though the Boy Scouts reaffirmed the no-gays policy just seven months ago, the proposal is expected to be discussed, and possibly voted on, at the meeting of the Scouts' national executive board, which begins Monday in Irving, outside Dallas.
Perry told the youngsters that the Scouts was a key reason he joined the U.S. Air Force and later sought public office, and that society's failure to adhere to the organization's core values was a cause for high rates of teen pregnancy and wayward youth who grow up to be "men joining their fathers in prison."
Speaking to reporters afterward, Perry said: "Hopefully the board will follow their historic position of keeping the Scouts strongly supportive of the values that make Scouting this very important and impactful organization."
"I think most people see absolutely no reason to change the position and neither do I," Perry said. He said his views on the subject haven't changed since writing his book, in which he noted that profits would be donated to the Boy Scouts of America Legal Defense since "they continue to be under attack from the forces of secularism."
Asked if he would feel different about the Scouts if the policy is changed, Perry wouldn't say. But he added: "to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate."
He also disagreed that allowing members of all sexual preferences would make the Scouts more tolerant: "I think you get tolerance and diversity every day in Scouting."
Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, said Saturday, "It's a shame that Governor Perry has chosen to be on the wrong side of history."
"Governor Perry and the Boy Scouts are both completely out of touch with where America is going on this issue," he said "There should be one national, non-discrimination policy. We can't quite wrap our heads around why that is so difficult to do in 2013."
Perry wrote in his book that he doesn't "believe the teaching of sexual preference fits within the parameters of Scouting's mission," but also made it very clear he'd like to keep gay members from joining.
"Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting: character building, not sex education," he wrote.
Perry also questioned whether sexual preference is determined at birth or is a matter of personal choice in his book, and wrote that he doesn't believe in "condemning homosexuals that I know personally."
Zach Wahls is an Eagle Scout raised in Iowa by two lesbian moms who has become a leading activist against the no-gays policy. Wahls said by phone Saturday he believes national Scout leaders will soften the membership policy next week, and he hopes the move won't make Perry won't turn his back on the Scouts.
"We've been called bullies and had people say `you're imposing your will,"' he said. "Our organization isn't calling for the removal of anybody who disagrees with us. We support fully inclusive Scouting."