THE Boy Scouts of America is throwing open its ranks to gay Scouts but not gay adult Scout leaders – a fiercely contested compromise that some warn could split the movement and lead to mass defections.
The Scouts stressed that their organisation of about 2.6m boys and about 1m adult leaders and volunteers would not condone sexual conduct by any scout – gay or straight.
But the bitter debate is not over. Liberal scout leaders have made it clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
The National Council vote result this week was welcomed by many gay rights groups, but many religious institutions, which charter about 70pc of the US Scouting units, were upset. Some threatened to defect.
"We are deeply saddened," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee. "Homosexual behaviour is incompatible with the principles enshrined in Scout law."
Some of the scouting group's largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have supported the broad ban on gay members and leaders – notably the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
The policy change takes effect on January 1. Yesterday's vote came after a survey of more than 200,000 leaders, parents and youth members earlier this year. Sixty-one percent supported the policy of excluding gays, while 34pc opposed it.
However, most parents of young Scouts opposed the ban.
Pascal Tessier, an openly gay 16-year-old Boy Scout, was elated by the outcome.
"I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout," Tessier said. "Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing."