National & World News

Boy Scout leaders put off vote on gay membership

By Casey Wian and Michael Pearson, IRVING, Texas (CNN) – Boy Scout executives won’t vote this week on a proposal that would allow local troops to decide whether to welcome gay members and leaders.

The national organization’s executive board had been expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday, but said instead that it needs more time to get comment on the issue from its members.

The decision will now be made at the organization’s annual meeting in May. About 1,400 members of the group’s national council will take part during that gathering, the board said.

“After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,” the board said in a statement.

In the meantime, the organization will “further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns.”

Many conservatives and religious groups that sponsor Scout troops argued against the proposal, saying the change would dilute the Boy Scout message of morality and potentially destroy the organization.

Gay rights groups and other critics had hoped the organization would lift the ban, but had expressed concerns of their own that allowing local troops to make the decision whether to admit gays would still result in unequal treatment.

The Boy Scouts announced last month that it would consider changing its longstanding policy against allowing openly gay members.

The new policy would allow local leaders to decide “consistent with each organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs” whether to open troops they sponsor to openly gay people, the group said in a statement at the time.

The decision to even consider a change comes more than a decade after a Supreme Court ruling that found the organization has the right to keep gays out, but also amid declining participation in the venerable American institution.

Membership in Boy Scouts has declined by about a third since 1999. About 2.7 million people now participate in scouting nationwide, with more than 70% of troops affiliated with a church or religious groups.

The organization has also endured frequent criticism from gay rights groups and other critics who argue the Boy Scouts should not endorse discrimination.

Among more recent controversies, the organization came under fire last year after Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio den leader, was dismissed by her local Boy Scout officials for being a lesbian.

On Tuesday, Tyrell delivered a petition she said was signed by 1.4 million people supporting the change.

Before Wednesday’s announcement of the delay, she said she was looking forward to the change, but added it would not go far enough.

“If this ban is lifted, it’s a great first step,” she said Wednesday on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “But it’s still going to lead to kids being rejected. Families are still going to be turned away.”

Brandy Pryde, a troop leader who participated in a prayer vigil outside the Boy Scouts headquarters Wednesday, said her church would pull support from scouting if the change goes through.

“What happens when we go camping and there’s units that allow gays and homosexuals and there’s units that don’t, how are we going to keep them separated from those units and how are we going to instill in our kids Christian values and the Biblical truth if that’s allowed in our program?” she said.

A poll released Monday suggests the public is in favor of lifting the ban. The poll, conducted January 30 to February 4 by Quinnipiac University, found 55% of respondents favored lifting the ban. The school said 33% were opposed. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

President Barack Obama — who serves as honorary president of the national organization by virtue of his office — also supports opening troops to everyone.

But conservative politicians and religious leaders have argued doing so would dilute the organization’s voice and mission.

Some, including former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have argued the change could destroy scouting. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said the change could be a “catastrophe.”

“What they’ve said to us and to other religious leaders is that they are doing this under pressure, and we’re going to give people what basically amounts to a local option,” Land said. “You can’t have a local option of a core conviction.”

Changing the policy against having openly gay leaders or scouts “would be a grave mistake,” the conservative Family Research Council and dozens of other groups said in a half-page ad in USA Today this week.

The message called on the Boy Scouts to “show courage” and “stand firm for timeless values.”

“Every American who believes in freedom of thought and religious liberty should be alarmed by the attacks upon the Boy Scouts, who have had core convictions about morality for 100 years,” the ad said. “Every Scout takes an oath to keep himself ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts have every right to include sexual conduct in how they define that term.”

But others say scouting is suffering because of its policy on gays, not despite it.

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, says the ban has backfired.

When he was 10, Wahls’ Cub Scout pack had to find a new home because the Boy Scouts of America’s policy violated the nondiscrimination rule of the school district that hosted it.

“I was confused, because my den mother, Jackie — who is my actual mother — was a lesbian, and nobody in our unit had any issue with that,” Wahls wrote. The pack managed to find another sponsor — a nearby church — but “some parents pulled their kids from the pack, uncomfortable with entrusting their sons to an organization they believed engaged in discrimination.”

CNN’s Casey Wian reported from Irving and Michael Pearson wrote and reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Holly Yan, Catherine E. Shoichet and Devon Sayers also contributed to this report.

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