Boy Scouts Delay Decision On Allowing Openly Gay Scouts, Leaders

The Boy Scouts' executive board delayed a decision on gay membership until May.

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The Boy Scouts of America is delaying a decision on whether to accept gay members and leaders. Word came today after a three-day national board meeting in Dallas. NPR's Kathy Lohr has reaction now from advocates on both sides of the debate who do agree on one thing: they plan to keep the pressure on.

(APPLAUSE)

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Outside the Boy Scouts national headquarters this morning in Irving, Texas, dozens of protesters from the conservative group Texas Values held a prayer vigil and rally while waiting to hear what the Boy Scouts would do.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So, ladies and gentlemen, the Boy Scouts of America, according to this statement, have decided not to change their policy at this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

LOHR: Today, the 103-year-old organization released a statement, saying, after careful consideration, it needs more time for what it calls a deliberate review of its membership policy. It will take no action until its national meeting in May.

Just two weeks ago, the group announced it was considering ending its long-standing ban on gays in scouting and leaving the decision to local chapters. Debate over the proposal erupted in campaigns to flood the Boy Scouts office with phone calls and emails from conservative groups.

Dave Welch, with the Texas Pastor's Council, is among those who oppose any policy change. He says the delay is a victory.

DAVE WELCH: Ultimately, it depends on the moral fortitude of the scouts to uphold their traditional positions and to simply say no. We are who we are. And those who want to take a different position and have an organization that involves homosexuals, go start your own.

LOHR: Another group that opposes a change, The Family Research Council, said it, too, is encouraged by the delay but says that's not enough. The group urged the scouts to reaffirm its current standards.

The Boy Scouts Greater Salt Lake Council, which has more than half a million members, called for more time to discuss the issue. The Mormon Church is the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops. A church spokesman today said the group, quote, "Acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard."

Gay rights activists are clearly disappointed and angry. Jennifer Tyrrell was forced out of her son's Cub Scout pack in Ohio last spring because she's gay.

JENNIFER TYRRELL: I was taught that a scout is brave. The BSA was in a position to really stand up and show their bravery, and they have failed us yet again.

LOHR: She says the Boy Scouts of America, which some abbreviate as the BSA, is ignoring more than 1.4 million people who've signed petitions to end the ban. Zach Wahls is an Eagle Scout who started Scouts for Equality last year. He says the Boy Scouts caved in to those who oppose gay rights. But he says activists will keep the pressure on.

ZACH WAHLS: We're going to continue to, you know, lobby BSA's corporate donors. But we're also going to continue to work and mobilize grassroots supporters across the country and highlight to, you know, local leaders the effect that this ban is having on their scouting units.

LOHR: Two of the board's 70 members have publicly denounced the policy banning gays, and Wahls says public opinion on this issue is changing. He points to a national Quinnipiac University poll released today. It shows 55 percent of voters surveyed say the Boy Scouts should drop its ban of openly gay members.

WAHLS: So if the scouts don't lift the ban on gay members, they will find that they are no longer relevant to an entire generation that has decided to support the rights of our gay brothers, sisters, neighbors, coworkers and friends.

LOHR: The Boy Scouts of America says it will work with scouting representatives to draft a resolution on membership standards. About 1,400 voting members will consider that in May. Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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