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Boy Scouts allow gay Scouts, but leave ban on gay leaders in place

The Boy Scouts of America voted to lift a ban on gay Scouts, but critics say a decision to maintain a ban on gay Scout leaders sends a mixed message and leaves the issue unsettled.

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Boy Scouts salute during New Jersey's Boy Scouts Camporee in Sea Girt, N.J., in this file photo. The Boy Scouts of America's National Council has voted to ease a longstanding ban and allow openly gay boys to be accepted as Scouts.

Mel Evans/AP/File

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The Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to approve the admission of openly gay youth members but left in place a ban on homosexual adult Scout leaders, raising the prospect of gay Scouts having to leave the group when they become adults. 

The decision was backed by key religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Anglican Church of North America. Nearly 70 percent of the Boy Scouts' 116,000 local chapters are in churches or other faith-based organizations.

But critics worried that the decision was sending a mixed message and that the new policy, intended to bring some modicum of steadiness to an organization in transition, will fail to settle the issue.

“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history, the ... Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone," the organization said in a statement. "The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place."

The measure passed with the support of 68 percent of the 1,400 delegates at the BSA national conference in Grapevine, Texas. It will affect BSA’s 2.7 million Scouts and 1 million volunteers beginning in January 2014.

The move changes the organization’s current policy, in which no one is asked about his sexual orientation but “open or avowed homosexuals” cannot be members, leaders, volunteers, or employees. The policy – instituted in 1978 and reaffirmed in 2002 – was upheld by a 2000 US Supreme Court ruling (BSA v. Dale).

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