After a contentious challenge to their membership policy, 1,400 delegates of the 103-year-old Boy Scouts of America youth organization voted overwhelmingly to adopt an amendment that effectively lifts the ban on homosexual youth in the organization on Thursday.
The ban on gay adult scout leaders will remain.
Sixty-one percent of the delegates voted in favor of the resolution while 39 percent voted against it at the organization's National Annual Meeting in Grapevine, Texas.
On Wednesday, the organization's president, Wayne Perry, called on the 1,400 delegates of the organization in a USA Today op-ed to adopt the resolution charging that the BSA was not the forum for resolving such complex issues.
"Somehow, Scouting has become one of the focal points in the debate on homosexuality. However, it is not the role of the Boy Scouts to resolve this complex issue, nor can the decision we will make today," wrote Perry.
Several faith-based organizations shared their regret on the ruling on Thursday and predicted a mass exodus from the organization and offered alternative programs consistent with biblical values.
"Assemblies of God leadership regrets that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has voted to change its policy regarding inclusion of homosexual youth members. We believe – as do a majority of Boy Scout volunteer leaders and parents – that this is not the best policy for BSA, nor for the young men it serves," the church body said in its official statement on the decision.
"We believe that the BSA policy change will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program, as Assemblies of God and many other churches can no longer support groups that are part of an organization allowing members who are openly homosexual. However, as a positive alternative, we offer a program – the Royal Rangers – that operates with values consistent to that of the BSA prior to today's change," the statement continued.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, "Sadly, the Boy Scouts' legacy of producing great leaders has become yet another casualty of moral compromise. Unfortunately, Boy Scout delegates capitulated to strong-arm tactics and abandoned the timeless values that have served the organization well for more than 100 years."
"The delegates succumbed to a concerted and manipulative effort by the national BSA leadership despite the BSA's own survey showing 61 percent of its members in opposition to changing the policy," he added.
And the Florida Family Policy Council asked, "What kind of a message are we sending to young people about being brave when its top adult leaders don't even have the courage to stand up to the peer pressure of their own adult peers when the bullies in Washington DC, Hollywood or even some of their own renegade councils start pressuring and harassing them?"
Last week Cathy Ruse, senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council, argued that the change to the organization's membership policy is a roundabout way for gay rights activists to create a window for later legal challenges to the Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000) Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling maintains that the BSA's old membership policy is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment because it explicitly states that homosexuality is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill. Now that the BSA has adopted the amendments, it technically becomes silent on the issue relinquishing not just the right to ban gay youth from the organization, but a strong legal defense to ban adults as well.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday, Elizabeth Pritchard, the pack committee chair for Pack 928 in Southlake, Texas, said the vote will likely fracture the organization and scare away members who disagree with the ruling.
"I just can't imagine going to camp with my son, being with him every step of the way saying: 'I'm sorry, he can't sleep in tents with other boys. I'm sorry, he can't take a shower unless I'm outside the shower and he's the only person in there. I'm sorry, he can't go biking with other boys unless his father or I are there.' How is that scouting?" she asked.
Boy Scouts of America is one of the largest youth groups in the U.S., boasting 2.7 million youth members and more than one million adult volunteers. Since its founding in 1910, more than 110 million Americans have been members of the BSA.