WASHINGTON — The Boy Scouts of America on Thursday ended its ban on openly gay youths but maintained a prohibition on gay adult leaders, a decision framed as a compromise but one that could lead to litigation and thousands of defections from one of America's largest youth organizations.
The immediate impact of the policy change, endorsed by more than 60 percent of the organization's 1,400 voting members, is likely to vary widely.
Mormon officials on Thursday night said the church would stay involved with Scouting "based on our mutual interest in helping boys and young men understand and live their duty to God and develop upright moral behavior." Bishop Paul Loverde, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, issued a statement saying the vote would likely force the diocese to reconsider sponsoring troops in about 50 of its parishes, while the Rev. William Byrne, secretary for pastoral ministry of the diocese of Washington, said the new policy is not in conflict with Catholic teaching.
The vote of the century-old group symbolizes just how quickly many Americans' views on homosexuality are changing. Just last summer the Scouts reaffirmed its desire to keep out openly gay boys and gay adult volunteers, a policy the Supreme Court upheld in 2000. But the escalating pressure from families and major donors in the past year forced the Scouts to act.
The vote removes "the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone," the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement.
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue," the statement said. "While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting."