The Boy Scouts of America voted on Thursday to lift a century-old ban on openly gay scouts in a major victory for gay rights activists, but the decision means a sea of change for an organization that depends heavily on faith-based groups.
More than 60% of the group’s National Council, comprised of some 1,400 delegates, voted in favor of ending the ban, effective January 1, 2014, the group said in a statement. A prohibition on openly gay adult leaders remains in place.
The decision followed weeks of intense lobbying by gay rights activists and members of conservative organisations, many of them church groups that have traditionally formed the backbone of one of the nation’s largest youth organisations.
“I’m a happy camper,” said Mike Harrison, 71, a former chairman of California’s Orange County Boy Scout Council who voted to end the ban at a meeting of the National Council in Grapevine, Texas.
“The process was a very civil debate... There wasn’t any uncivilized behaviour. People stated their case, passionately and from many different angles,” he said, adding that by Thursday it had become clear that “the younger generation of scouting just don’t see it the way the old guard did.”
The Boy Scouts’ long-standing ban on gayscouts had become a polarizing issue at the center of the debate on gay rights in the US, where gay soldiers may now serve openly in the military and where gay couples can wed in a number of states.