The Boy Scouts of America voted on Monday to end a controversial 105-year-old ban on homosexual males holding adult leadership positions in the organisation, with some exceptions for religious groups.
“For far too long this issue had divided and distracted us,” said Scouts America president Robert Gates, a former defence secretary, in a statement. “Now it’s time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members.”
The policy change, voted by the organisation executive members in a 45-12 majority on a resolution passed earlier by a smaller body, comes into effect immediately.
But it will apply only to the Boy Scouts of America; and not to scouts organisations elsewhere in the world, such as India’s Bharat Scouts and Guides, who frame their own rules.
The American scouts organization, which has 2.4 million youth members and 1 million adults in leadership positions, has seen its membership decline as other youth bodies grew.
It was seen out of sync with a rapidly changing society, specially in its response to gays and lesbians, who recently won the Supreme Court’s backing for same-sex marriage.
After considerable debate, BSA allowed gay youths in the organisation in 2013, but kept a ban on adults — who are in leadership roles as scoutmasters. But the organisation appeared ready to go the whole way.
Gates’s election as president in 2014, signalled a push in that direction, as he was instrumental in bringing the don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule for gays in US military as defence secretary. Now the ban is gone, but not completely.
Units associated with religious groups and charters, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), have been exempted.
They are allowed to pick their own leaders, and can go only with heterosexuals if they wish. But that is unlikely to mollify them — especially the Mormons, who are threatening to cut ties.
The church, which accounts for 17% of BSA’s membership, said in a statement that its “century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined”.