WASHINGTON – The Boy Scouts of America agreed for the first time to allow openly gay youths to join the organization, but will maintain a ban on gay adult leaders.
Sixty-one percent of the estimated 1,400 delegates of the BSA’s National Council at its annual meeting on Thursday voted to end a ban that for decades has barred open homosexuality in the movement.
“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue,” the BSA said in a statement, adding that there were no plans to further review the matter.
“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting.”
The text said “no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
It updated the BSA’s “membership standards,” seen as symbolizing traditional US values. But the measure reaffirmed existing rules for adult Scout leaders.
Interest groups were quick to react.
The vote “is a significant victory for gay youth across the nation and a clear indication that the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay adult leaders will also inevitably end,” said Rich Ferraro with the gay rights group GLAAD.
The BSA “heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people,” Ferraro said in a statement.
Chad Griffin with the Human Rights Campaign hailed what he called a “historic day for Boy Scouts.”
However, the new policy “doesn’t go far enough. Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans,” he added.
The BSA “can do better,” said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and executive director of Scouts for Equality.
“We welcome the news that the ban on gay Scouts is history, but our work isn’t over until we honor the Scout Law by making this American institution open and affirming to all.”
Tony Perkins with the conservative Family Research Council, however, vehemently disagreed, saying the delegates “succumbed to a concerted and manipulative effort by the national BSA leadership.”
The current BSA leadership “will bend with the winds of popular culture, and the whims of liberal special interest groups. There is little doubt that God will soon be ushered out of scouting,” he added.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a one-time Republican presidential hopeful, was also upset by the vote results.
“Today’s decision contradicts generations of tradition in the name of political correctness,” Perry said. “While I will always cherish my time as a scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts was a private organization that had the right to ban gay members.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in February found that voters across the country are 55 percent in favor of an end to the Scouts’ ban, with only 33 percent against.
President Barack Obama has said that “nobody should be barred” from the Scouts.
The 103-year-old institution, famed for its outdoor training programs and support of wholesome virtues, has close links to the country’s conservative and religious heartland.
The Boy Scouts, which is separate from the Girl Scouts of the USA, counts 2.6 million boys in its membership.