GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The Boy Scouts of America's National Council has voted to ease a long-standing ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted as Scouts.
Of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal.
Under the proposal drafted by the Scouts' governing board, gay adults will remain barred from serving as Scout leaders.
The outcome is unlikely to end a bitter debate over the Scouts' membership policy.
Some conservative churches that sponsor Scout units wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted. More liberal Scout leaders -- while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth -- have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.Supporters of allowing gay scouts used a political consulting firm and targeted about 120 local Scouting councils where they thought the most votes could be won. Opponents cited Texas code to obtain the names and addresses of voting members from BSA officials so they could send out mailings, and held rallies across the country last week.
Scouting was established in 1910 and claims 2.6 million youth members, in addition to thousands of leaders and volunteers. Its board of directors includes executives and community leaders, and President Barack Obama is its honorary president.
Obama urged the organization to reverse the ban before a national executive board meeting that took place in February, and two high-profile board members -- the CEOs of AT&T and Ernst & Young -- said they would work from within to change the policy.
The national executive board decided instead to leave the final decision to a national council vote, and the BSA launched a listening tour of surveys and focus groups. BSA President Wayne Perry called on voters to approve the resolution overturning the ban in an opinion piece for USA Today published online Wednesday.
Findings that BSA published on its website illustrate the difficult balancing act it faces.
It said a majority of "adults in the Scouting community" support the current ban, but a majority of current Boy Scouts and Venture scouts do not, according to the findings. About 48 percent of parents of current Scouts support the policy, down from 57 percent three years ago.
One estimate suggested a policy change could cause as many as 100,000 to 350,000 Scouts to leave. And it could also affect donors -- just more than half of local councils reported to BSA that their donors supported the current ban.
Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions. While these sponsors include liberal churches opposed to any ban on gays, 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.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in April that it supports the new proposal. Leaders of some smaller, conservative denominations have opposed it.
"Ultimately we can't anticipate how people will vote but we do know that the result will not match everyone's personal preference," said Deron Smith, BSA's national spokesman.