Peter Brownstein delivered pizza to same-sex couples waiting to be married
Lines were long after a judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage
Brownstein wore a rainbow neckerchief with his Scout uniform
The Boy Scouts voted last May to allow openly gay youths to join
Amid the women in lacy wedding veils and the men in spiffy suits at the county clerk’s office was Peter Brownstein. He’d replaced the blue neckerchief of his Scoutmaster’s uniform with one in the colors of the rainbow, the colors of gay pride. He carried boxes of hot pepperoni and cheese pizzas in his arms. And by his side, he had his son Michael, a 14-year-old Eagle Scout.
Brownstein, 52, had gone down to the Salt Lake City office to bear witness to a marriage. What he found Monday morning was a line that snaked along halls on two floors of the building. Gay couples had rushed in to tie the knot after a district judge struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. Mayor Ralph Becker called it a “thrilling pandemonium.”
Many had been waiting for hours. Some brought along children in strollers. They were all hungry. As were the employees of the clerk’s office, who skipped lunch to process the crush of marriage certificate applications.
Brownstein went down to the Little Caesar’s and picked up 10 pizzas. He and Michael handed out slices to the employees and the couples waiting to wed.
Their generosity was appreciated. Their courage, noticed.
That they performed this task dressed in their Scout uniforms immediately drew attention. Cell-phone photos went off to Twitter and Facebook. Comments like this got posted on blogs:
“Utah. Boy scouts. Delivering pizzas. To support. Gay marriage. The. End.” Joanna Brooks wrote those words in the online Religion Dispatches.
Yes, this was conservative Utah, the epicenter of Mormonism. Yes, Brownstein was affiliated with the Scouts, an organization that has been mired in controversy over its policies on homosexuality and earlier this year voted to allow openly gay youths to join. The vote caused an uproar among conservative and some religious organizations that argued the change would dilute the Scout message of morality.
Brownstein is no stranger to any of that controversy.
As leader of Boy Scout Troop 351, he’s long advocated for the Scouts to accept all boys and men into the organization. He was reprimanded last June for participating in full uniform in the Utah pride parade in Salt Lake City.
“We are very disappointed that you used Scouting to advance the gay agenda,” wrote Bry Davis, council president, and Rick Barnes, Scout executive.
The United Jewish Federation of Utah, the sponsor of Troop 351, suspended all its activities in September. Executive Director Alex Shapiro said the federation does not discriminate against any groups. He said the troop was shut down because families of the Scouts felt Brownstein’s focus had shifted away from their children.
“It is true that Troop 351 is no longer active, however, that was a decision that was made solely by the Scout families and did not involve the federation,” Shapiro said.
Brownstein was disappointed. He didn’t see his actions as promoting any agenda or violating any Boy Scout rules. He saw the parade as a celebration of cultural diversity.
He held steadfast to his belief that Scouting was and still is the finest youth development program. He loved how his son learned self-sufficiency and honed leadership skills. When he took his troop to summer camp last year, Brownstein chose not to participate in the food program. Instead, he and the boys cooked on an open fire. Meat stews were popular. So were the brown-and-serve rolls cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven.
And both father and son admired the ideals of service instilled by the Scouts. It was in that vein that they decided to hand out pizza on Monday.
“I see it as simply providing service,” Michael said.
His father added this: “I would say that it’s meant to show what true Scouting values are – of thinking of others and helping others and not being selective about who you are helping.”
In this season of Hanukkah and Christmas, Brownstein, who is Jewish, also believes what he did Monday was in line with his religious beliefs.
“I still celebrated Hanukkah, not Christmas. But this seems in the spirit of Christmas,” he said of his pizza delivery.
Is he glad he did it? “Totally.”
Would he do it again? “In a heartbeat.”
Brownstein feels good about what he did, even though Troop 351 is still without a sponsor and Monday’s actions may not necessarily help him out.
Well, maybe he does have one regret.
Next time, he’ll get more pizza so there’ll be a slice left for him.