Boy Scouts approve plan to accept openly gay boys

(Photo: WKRN)

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) – The Boy Scouts of America threw open its
ranks Thursday to gay Scouts but not gay Scout leaders – a fiercely
contested compromise that some warned could fracture the organization
and lead to mass defections of members and donors.

Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA's
National Council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal
drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes
effect Jan. 1.

“This has been a challenging chapter in our
history,” the BSA chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote.
“While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better
off when they're in Scouting.”

However, the outcome will not end the bitter debate over the Scouts' membership policy.

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.” It also warned that the change would make the
BSA vulnerable to lawsuits seeking to end the ban on gay adults.

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.

The result was welcomed by many liberal members of
the Scouting community and by gay-rights activists, though most of the
praise was coupled with calls for ending the ban on gay adults.

“I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until
there's a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue,” said
Jennifer Tyrrell, whose ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because
she is lesbian launched a national protest movement.

Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland, was elated by the outcome.

Tessier, who is openly gay, is on track to earn his
Eagle Scout award and was concerned that his goal would be thwarted if
the proposed change had been rejected.

“I was thinking that today could be my last day as a
Boy Scout,” Tessier said. “Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote
is life-changing.”

The vote followed what the BSA described as “the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history” to gauge opinions.

Back in January, the BSA executive committee had
suggested a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of
admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to
exclude them. However, the plan won little praise, and the BSA changed
course after assessing responses to surveys sent out starting in
February to members of the Scouting community.

Of the more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth
members who responded, 61 percent supported the current policy of
excluding gays, while 34 percent opposed it. Most parents of young
Scouts, as well as youth members themselves, opposed the ban.

The proposal approved Thursday was seen as a
compromise, and the Scouts stressed that they would not condone sexual
conduct by any Scout – gay or straight.

“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.

Since the executive committee just completed a
lengthy review process, there were “no plans for further review on this
matter,” the group added, indicating it would not be revisiting the ban
on gay adults anytime soon.

Among those voting for the proposal to accept
openly gay youth was Thomas Roberts, of Dawsonville, Ga., who serves on
the board of a Scout council in northeast Georgia.

“It was a very hard decision for this organization,” he said. “I think ultimately it will be viewed as the right thing.”

The BSA's overall “traditional youth membership” –
Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers – is now about 2.6 million,
compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past. It also has
about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers.

Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions.

Those include liberal churches opposed to any ban
on gays, but some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative
denominations that have previously supported the broad ban – notably the
Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
and Southern Baptist churches.

While the Southern Baptists were clearly upset by the vote to accept openly gay youth, the Mormon church reacted positively.

“We trust that BSA will implement and administer
the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner,” an official
LDS statement said.

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting
responded cautiously, saying it would assess the possible impact of the
change on Catholic-sponsored Scout units.

The BSA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, has long excluded both gays and atheists.

Protests over the no-gays policy gained momentum in
2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the BSA's right to exclude
gays. Scout units lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities
that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and several local Scout
councils made public their displeasure with the policy.

Copyright 2013 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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