Feb 6, 2013 / 10:27 am
The Boy Scouts of America said Wednesday it needed more time before deciding whether to move away from its divisive policy of excluding gays as scouts or adult leaders. A decision was pushed back to the group's annual meeting in May.
The scouting organization last week said it was considering allowing troops to decide whether to allow gay membership. It would be the latest step in the national debate over gay rights in the U.S., where some states allow gay marriage and the Supreme Court in March will consider questions over married gay couples' equal rights to federal benefits.
President Barack Obama Scouting's honorary president has spoken in favour of admitting gay scouts. Others, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout, opposed it. Concerns have been raised about addressing issues related to sexuality among groups of boys, some of whom haven't reached puberty.
Under intense pressure from both sides, the BSA board met behind closed doors Wednesday. It became clear that the proposed change would be unacceptable to large numbers of Scouting families and advocacy groups on the left and right.
Gay-rights supporters said no Scout units should be allowed to exclude gays, while some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban was eased.
About 70 per cent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Michael Purdy, a Mormon church spokesman, said the BSA "acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue."
Shortly after the delay was announced, conservative supporters of the ban held a rally and prayer vigil Wednesday at the headquarters, carrying signs reading, "Don't Invite Sin Into the Camp," and "The only voice that matters is God!"
Early reaction to the delay from gay-rights supporters was harshly critical of the BSA.
"A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today," said Jennifer Tyrrell, a mother ousted from her post as a Cub Scout volunteer because she's a lesbian.
Brad Hankins, campaign director of Scouts for Equality, said the delay would have a direct impact on young men already in the scouting movement.
"By postponing this decision, thousands of currently active Scouts still remain uncertain about their future in the program and are shamed into silence," Hankins said. "We understand that this change is a huge paradigm shift for some, but this isn't a religious issue. It's simply one of human morality, and that is something common to all faiths."
The BSA board faces several choices, none of which is likely to quell the controversy. Not changing the policy would go against the public wishes of two high-profile board members Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson who run companies with nondiscrimination policies and have said they would work from within to change the Scouts' policy.
"In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public," said the BSA's national spokesman, Deron Smith.
Smith said the executive board "concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy." The board will prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the national council, he said.
One protester, Maggie Wright, 67, said she was disappointed that the movement didn't decide straight away to maintain the ban. She said she has two grandsons who are active in the scouting movement, one aged 11, and she is concerned about homosexuals teaching the young men.
"We're not condoning or hating," she said.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and David Crary contributed.
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Irving, Texas, contributed to this report.
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