Boy Scouts Of America End Blanket Ban On Gay Leaders

The National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America today voted to end its longstanding ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees. Of those present and voting, 79 percent supported the resolution, which took effect immediately. The move comes after a recommendation by National Executive Committee earlier this month to end the ban.

The Boy Scouts said in today's statement, "Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality." The statement says the change will continue to allow members and parents to select their own local units, "with similar beliefs that best meet the needs of their families." The group also said the change "respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own."

In a video statement released on the Boy Scout's website, BSA National President Robert M. Gates elaborated on the decision:

"Due to the social, political, and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe the adult leadership policy [banning openly gay adult leaders and employees] could be sustained. Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering cost. The best way to allow the BSA to continue to focus on its mission and preserve its core values was to address the issue and set our own course. And that's what we've done."

Gates pointed out that no youth can be denied membership because of sexual orientation, and that no council can deny a charter to "a unit that is following the beliefs of its religious chartering organization."

Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts For Equality, a group that has been vocal on ending the ban on gay leadership, said of today's decision, "This vote marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Boy Scouts of America." He continued, "Tens of thousands of people came together because they wanted to build a better future for the Boy Scouts of America, and that future starts today. I couldn't be more proud of the tireless work of our members, volunteers, and staff over these last three years. As of today, the Boy Scouts of America is an organization that is looking forward, not back."

Wahls did add that his group has some reservations about the new rules because they still allows individual units to discriminate against gay adults.

The Mormon Church has already expressed concern over the policy change and says it is now re-evaluating its scouting program. In a statement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it is "deeply troubled" by the vote and that admitting openly gay leaders is "inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America."

Internal numbers from the Boy Scouts show that membership has declined in recent years, dropping 7.4 percent in 2014, the first full year that the Boy Scouts allowed openly gay youth.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.