Openly gay youths can join the Boy Scouts of America, its voting members decided Thursday, though gay leaders promptly called the change in the century-old program for boys and teens inadequate and vowed to continue to pressure the Scouts to go further.
More than 60 percent of the approximately 1,400 local Boy Scouts of America leaders voting Thursday afternoon supported the proposed resolution drafted by the organization's governing board, which also specifically reaffirms the ban on gay adults serving as Scout leaders.
Scouting leaders will begin to work immediately on changes related to the policy, which will go into effect Jan 1. The newly adopted sentence says, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
But adults who are open homosexuals still may not be scoutmasters, leaders, volunteers or employees, and that part of the outcome means the bitter debate over the Scouts' membership policy is unlikely to end.
The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement that this decision ends the issue and it will not revisit the ban on gay adults. But gay-rights advocates have other ideas.
Chad Griffin, leader of the Human Rights Campaign, immediately said the vote was a good first step, but "the new policy doesn't go far enough."
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry and attorney for James Dale, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to forcibly overturn the Boy Scouts' policy on gays in 2000, tweeted that "discrimination when youth turn 18 is wrong and unworkable. Finish the job."
Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality and son of two lesbian mothers, said he wasn't satisfied either. "I got into this fight for my parents, and I want to finish this fight for my parents," he said, according to a CBS-TV affiliate in Dallas.
At the other end, an unknown number of Scouting supporters are likely to leave.
"It is with great sadness and deep disappointment that we recognize on this day that the most influential youth program in America has turned a tragic corner," said John Stemberger, Eagle Scout and founder of OnMyHonor.net. "The vote today to allow open and avowed homosexuality into Scouting will completely transform it into an unprincipled and risky proposition for parents. It is truly a sad day for Scouting."
"I'm very disappointed. I was hoping that the delegates would step up and protect us in a way that the executives had failed to," said David Metcalf, a Scout leader of a Christian home-schooling troop, who talked to WFAA-TV in Dallas with his 13-year-old son.
Mr. Metcalf said his troop will "put our guard up," and pay "very close attention" to how the policy on homosexuality is implemented. "Of course, we will consider" pulling out of the BSA, he added.
For weeks before the vote, groups on both sides gathered petitions, held rallies and news conferences, and otherwise encouraged support for their positions on the policy.
The Boy Scouts of America membership policy also stipulates that "any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual," among its youths "is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," and that Scouting should not be used "to promote or advance any social or political position or agenda."
But opponents of the policy change were not reassured that these guidelines would stave off romantic overtures — wanted and unwanted — by youths who were openly attracted to other males.
This is "an impossible and unworkable proposal that, once again, will please no one," Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote this week.
Baptist churches charter about 4,000 Boy Scouts of America units.
The Assemblies of God, which sponsors 91 troops, said it was disappointed in the vote.
"We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual," the church said in a statement.
"However, as a positive alternative, we offer a program — the Royal Rangers — that operates with values consistent to that of the BSA prior to today's change."
The policy won an endorsement from a major church that adheres to the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Boy Scouts' largest chartering organization.
In its statement, the Mormon church said it will continue to accept young men who agree to abide by its standards. Abstaining from sexual relationships, and "willingness to abide by standards of behavior," not sexual orientation, is "our compelling interest," the LDS statement said.
Other powerful voices, including those of Boy Scouts of America leaders, called for change. In an opinion piece in USA Today this week, the organization's president, Wayne Perry, said the new policy is "what is best for young people."
Several high-profile leaders and board members of the Boy Scouts of America — including National Commissioner Tico Perez and Executive Board members Randall Stephenson and James Turley — sought or supported the change as well.
Young parents also supported the change, as did leaders in some parts of the country.
Outsiders weigh in
Major corporations including UPS Inc., Intel Corp. and Merck & Co., weighed in, withholding their support in protest of the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policy. Even President Obama asked the Boy Scouts of America to reverse its ban on gay Scout leaders.
In its statement Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America noted that "any sexual conduct, heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth service by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue," it said.
However, in an interview with WFAA-TV, Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mother who was ousted as a den mother, said she was not done.
Thursday's victory "is what we've been working for," but "obviously, we have a little work to do until I can join," she said, wearing her Scouting uniform.
"Once they include everyone, I will be done," she said, adding that her son will not return to Scouting until then. "Until it's fully inclusive, we're going to keep on fighting."
Another front in the culture war is likely to open soon — that of Scouting's oath, which requires some sort of belief in God.
The American Humanist Association applauded the vote on membership of gays, but asked that atheists be admitted to Scouting as well.
"In addition to ending all anti-gay policies, the Boy Scouts should also open their doors to those without a religious affiliation. Their national policy of discrimination against humanists and atheists, like the anti-gay policy, needlessly shuts out millions of Americans," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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