The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to lift the century-old ban on gay kids and teens from becoming Scouts, which churches have called for a mass-exodus from the nation's largest youth organization with more than 2.6 million members.
Over 61 percent of Scouting’s National Council, comprised of 1,400 delegates, approved the resolution drafted by the executive committee ending the prohibition of openly gay youths. Of 1,232 votes, 757 were in favor. The ban on gay leaders was not voted and will remain in place.
“This resolution today dealt with youth. We have not changed our adult membership standards. They have served us well for the last 100 years. Those were not on the table,” said Tico Perez, BSA national commissioner.
The policy change will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, “allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units,” the BSA said in a statement.
Wayne Perry, president of BSA, said in an op-ed to USA Today, that the policy change came about as a result of “extensive dialogue with the Scouting family,” and not the result of outside pressure.
Yet, gay-rights activists have gathered petitions with more than 1.8 million signatures in support of ending the ban. Moreover, the Boy Scouts faced heavy pressure on one side from gay rights supporters and some of the major corporate sponsors who provide much of the group’s annual funding, according to Reuters.
About thirteen years ago, the Supreme Court has ruled that the 103-year-old BSA, a private membership organization, was free to decide who it would admit. Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy after a two-year examination by a committee. However, some local chapters have since been pushing for reconsideration. Then, BSA spent three months surveying members, talking to donors and discussing the issue with partner organizations. The reactions were mixed.
In a survey sent to more than 1 million adult members, 61 percent of the 200,000 respondents favored existing policy, but younger parents and teens “tend to oppose the policy,” BSA said in a report.
"The Boy Scouts are not listening to us," said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer, Eagle Scout, former scoutmaster and founder of an organization that opposes lifting the ban, according to Reuters.
Yet, the BSA executive committee unanimously endorsed this change in the proposed “membership standards resolution” that says “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The resolution also reads: “While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”
“We are unaware of any major religious chartered organization that believes a youth member simply stating that he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her unwelcome in their congregation,” said Perry, adding that it is not the role of Boy Scouts to resolve the debate on homosexuality nor can the decision made today.
Meanwhile, over 70 percent of the Boy Scout units are sponsored by faith-based organizations, according to Boy Scouts membership data. Some 22 percent of the units nationwide are chartered by civic organizations, and 7 percent are chartered by educational groups.
One of the major turning points in the debate came earlier this year when the Mormon Church tacitly agreed to lift the ban. The Mormon Church charters nearly 38,000 scout troops representing nearly haf a million scouts.
The next largest faith-based sponsors is the United Methodist Church, which charters about 11,000 scout troops representing about 363,000 scouts. They, too, issued a statement supporting an end to the ban. The Catholic Church, which sponsors about 84,000 troops, has taken no official position on the debate.
While Perry said that changing adult standards would have “conflicted with the majority of our partners…and would have disrupted our ability to deliver Scouting,” gay-rights advocates vowed to continue their campaign until the ban on gay adults is removed too.
Moreover, liberal Scout leaders — while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth — have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
In contrast, conservatives with the Scouts — including some churches that sponsor Scout units — wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted.
"We are deeply saddened," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, 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."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also expressed dismay.
"While I will always cherish my time as a scout and the life lessons I learned, I am greatly disappointed with this decision," he said.