Boy Scouts 'Moving Forward,' Vote To Allow Gay Members

The Boy Scouts of America has decided to allow openly gay Scouts to join the organization but not gay Scout leaders. Sixty-one percent of the National Council members who cast ballots supported the controversial proposal.

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm David Greene. Good morning. In a landmark move, the Boy Scouts of America has lifted its long-standing ban on gay members. The organization's national council voted yesterday to allow openly gay youth to join. But the Scouts will continue to exclude gay adults from leadership roles. Gay rights activists are calling yesterday's vote a partial victory. Those who oppose the change say it will irreparably harm the 103-year-old organization. Here's more from NPR's Kathy Lohr.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: The vote was 61 percent in favor of accepting openly gay youth. Afterward, Boy Scouts of America chief executive Wayne Brock said the debate has been challenging.

WAYNE BROCK: It's a very difficult decision for a lot of people, but we're moving forward together.

LOHR: Brock said it's time for the policy to change.

BROCK: Our vision is to serve every kid. We want every kid to have a place where they belong to learn and grow and feel protected.

LOHR: For months, some churches and conservative groups have rallied against the change. They say the Boy Scouts no longer represent the moral values of many parents and children. John Stemberger heads a group called OnMyHonor.net.

JOHN STEMBERGER: We grieve today, not because we're faced with leaving scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us.

LOHR: About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by faith-based organizations. Stemberger predicts hundreds of thousands of parents will pull their kids out, and the group will lose millions in funding. He says the Boy Scouts of America, known as the BSA, caved in to massive political pressure.

STEMBERGER: The BSA is teaching our kids that when your values become unpopular, just change them. The BSA is teaching our kids that when your convictions are challenged, just cave to peer pressure.

LOHR: Across the street, gay rights activists gathered to celebrate the news. Zach Wahls is an Eagle scout, the son of two gay moms, and founder of Scouts for Equality.

ZACH WAHLS: Well, I think today is a classic story about, you know, a cultural institution, the Boy Scouts of America, joining the rest of United States in the 21st century in understanding that we don't have anything to be afraid of when it comes to our LGBT friends, brothers and fellow Scouts.

LOHR: The policy will become effective in January. Wahls and other gay rights activists say it's the beginning of a shift that they say will lead to acceptance of openly gay adult Scout leaders. A broad cultural change is already taking place in many companies, in the military and in a dozen states where gay marriage has been approved.

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LOHR: Initial reaction to the decision is mixed. At the Smokey Row Coffee House in downtown Des Moines, Mark Reetz says he's retired, and is now a Christian minister. Reetz disagrees with the policy.

MARK REETZ: I don't hate anyone. I love everyone. Whether people are straight or gay makes no difference to me. But it's just that the gay agenda is trying to force everything into other people's lives, whether they like it or not, and I don't think that's right.

LOHR: Out west, in the tiny town of Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, Tyler Cazier was an Eagle Scout. He's Mormon, and although he says he doesn't believe in gay marriage, he's glad the Boy Scouts dropped their ban on openly gay youth.

TYLER CAZIER: As long as the Boy Scouts of America sticks to, you know, teaching boys how to build fires and, you know, things like serving other people and being honest, then I have no problem with a person's sexual orientation within the program.

LOHR: This issue has bitterly divided the Scouting community. Texas governor Rick Perry, who was an Eagle Scout, expressed disappointment. Perry says the Boys Scouts of America has been built upon the values of faith and family for more than 100 years, and he says this decision contradicts generations of tradition in the name of political correctness.

Some groups say they will look into starting their own Scout-like organization. They plan a meeting next month in Louisville with parents who, after the vote, are disillusioned. Gay rights activists say the decision should have come years ago, and they vow to keep fighting to make sure the policy is implemented in the more than 100,000 Scouting units across the country. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Dallas.

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