The Boy Scouts of America will vote next month on a proposal that would allow gay youths to join the program, but would continue to bar homosexual adults from being scout leaders, the organization announced Friday.
“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” the proposed policy states. But the organization “will maintain the current membership policy for all adult leaders.”
In January, the BSA proposed a resolution that would let local Scouting organizations decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts and adult leaders. But on Friday it said that it changed its course after considering the hundreds of thousands of responses to surveys it commissioned on the idea.
The review, said a BSA statement, "created an outpouring of feedback" from 200,000 respondents, some supporting the exclusion policy and others favoring a change.
Supporters of lifting the ban include several prominent Scouting board members, corporate funders, President Obama and his Republican challenger in last year's election Mitt Romney, several U.S. senators, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others.
Gay-rights groups, which had demanded a complete lifting of the ban, criticized the proposal as inadequate.
"Until every parent and young person have the same opportunity to serve, the Boy Scouts will continue to see a decline in both membership and donations," said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay-rights watchdog group GLAAD.
But the ban retained strong backing among important scouting constituencies, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Family Research Council.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, urged the Boy Scouts not to "jettison the core value that homosexual conduct is immoral."
"This resolution would introduce open homosexuality into the ranks and eventually the leadership of Scouting," Perkins said in a statement. "This is totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Scouting parents who want to keep their exclusive right to discuss issues of sexuality with their sons."
Last July, Scouting officials announced that after a two-year confidential review the organization had decided to keep the no-gays policy, which is essentially “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Experts at the time said the decision reflected the conservative values of many members, as well as the influence of the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church, together, sponsor groups enrolling about one-fourth of all Scouts. Both churches have in the past said they might abandon the Boy Scouts if it altered its policy on gay members and leaders.
But in late January, word leaked out that the organization might retreat from that position and allow local groups to decide.
In the months since, Scouting has conducted what it calls "the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history," holding more than 250 town-hall meetings across the country and polling more than 1 million members, Friday's statement said.
Scouting's members remain deeply divided on the issue, and the proposed policy is an effort to find a middle ground by allowing gay youths to participate while upholding the ban on gay adults.
The Scouts, one of the U.S.'s most popular private youth groups, said its National Council would vote on the proposal the week of May 20.