The leadership of the Boy Scouts of America's leadership entered into a conference this week that could result in a long-anticipated vote on whether to allow openly gay Scouts — a decision that, either way, could deeply affect the organization's membership and funding.
Scout leaders from around the country gathered at a resort in Texas, near the youth organization's suburban Dallas headquarters, for their annual national meeting. The three-day meeting is being closely covered by media because Scout officials have scheduled a vote Thursday on a resolution that would not allow youth Scouts to be excluded based only on sexual orientation. The ban on gay adult leaders would remain in place and is not undr discussion.
Conservatives and some religious groups have opposed allowing openly gay youth to join the scouts while gay-rights supporters are supporting the plan. National groups of both persuasions have organized protests to help sway the vote.
Boy Scouts of America president Wayne Perry called for voters to approve the resolution He insists a change is "the right decision for Boy Scouts."
"Parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting," he said Wednesday. "The resolution is not about adults; it is about what is best for young people."
The Boy Scouts of America is opening its doors to gay Scouts but not gay adult Scout leaders -- a hotly contested compromise that some warn could fracture the organization and lead to mass defections.
The Scouts on Thursday stressed that their organization of about 2.6 million boys and about 1 million adult leaders and volunteers would not condone sexual conduct by any Scout -- gay or straight.
However, the bitter debate is not over yet. Liberal Scout leaders have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
"We are deeply saddened," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee. "Homosexual behaviour is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law."
The policy change takes effect Jan. 1, 2014. Thursday's vote came after a survey of more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members earlier this year. Sixty-one per cent supported the policy of excluding gays, while 34 per cent opposed it.
Still, most parents of young Scouts opposed the ban. That agrees with a growing national acceptance of gay rights in the U.S., especially among the younger generations.