The Boy Scouts of America has agreed for the first time to allow openly gay boys as members, but a vote of the organization's National Council left in place a ban on gay Scout leaders.
The Associated Press reports that of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal. The policy change approved by the 1,400-member National Council would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, the organization said.
Here's a statement issued by the BSA after the vote:
"For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.
"Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization's long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting's mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change. ...
"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place."
As Reuters reports, the National Council's decision came amid intense lobbying by gay-rights activists and members of conservative organizations.
The group GLAAD praised the Scouts' decision:
"Today's 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 GLAAD spokesperson Rich Ferraro. "The Boy Scouts of America heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people, and GLAAD will continue this work with those committed to equality in Scouting until gay parents and adults are able to participate."
As NPR's Kathy Lohr reported on Wednesday:
"The most recent debate over the [no gays] policy began in January. One idea was to allow local troops to decide whether to allow gay members. Some conservative organizations objected. So the Boy Scouts conducted a survey and came up with the latest proposal, which would allow openly gay youth to participate. For the past couple of months, groups have been lobbying, protesting and threatening to leave the group if the proposal passes."
Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. Conservative Groups Disappointed
"We are deeply saddened," Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, was quoted by the AP as saying after learning of the result. "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law."
The Assemblies of God, another conservative denomination, said the policy change "will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program."