In a move that will undoubtedly have sweeping implications for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the more than 1,400 delegates gathered in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas, at the BSA's national meeting Thursday passed a resolution that will allow homosexual boys to participate fully in its programs. More than 60 percent of the delegates voted for the proposal.
Homosexual adults will still be banned from leadership in Scouting.
Reaction from both sides of the controversy was swift. The pro-homosexual Human Rights Campaign issued a statement saying the vote was a "historic step forward." The group also signaled its commitment to continue the fight to force the Scouts to accept homosexual leaders: "Unfortunately, the new policy does not go far enough, leaving adult Eagle Scouts, Scout leaders, and parents behind."
John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.Net, a group opposed to the change, said he felt "sadness and deep disappointment" that the "most influential youth program in America has turned a tragic corner. The vote today to allow open and avowed homosexuality into Scouting will completely transform it into an unprincipled and risky proposition for parents. It is truly a sad day for Scouting."
He added, "The BSA is teaching our kids that when your values become unpopular, just change them."
The BSA membership is now made up of more than 2.6 million, with more than 1 million adult leaders and volunteers. Before the vote, the Boy Scouts estimated that as many as 400,000 Scouts and Scouters would leave the organization if the resolution passed. "This decision will result in an enormous loss for the Scouting movement," Stemberger said.
The Mormon Church, the faith group with the largest number of Scouting units, released a statement saying it would continue working with the BSA.
"Sexual orientation has not previously beenand is not nowa disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops," the statement said. "Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest."
But Southern Baptists will likely take different path. Frank Page, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and an Eagle Scout, said he and others in the leadership of the SBC would present a series of resolutions at the denomination's convention in June.
"The resolutions will call on Southern Baptists to take steps to move away from the Boy Scouts of America," he said. "It's truly a sad day when Southern Baptists, who have stood with the Boy Scouts for so long, will now be forced to stand against them."
Page said because each Southern Baptist church is autonomous, resolutions have no binding authority, but "they do have influence" and would be critical to many churches in their decision-making process.
The Southern Baptists have their own boys program called Royal Ambassadors, which some SBC churches will now see as a more attractive alternative to the Boy Scouts.
The Family Research Council (FRC) has also opposed the change, hosting several high-profile events over the past month to mobilize conservatives and Christians.
"The Boy Scouts has for decades been a force for moral integrity and leadership in the United States," FRC President Tony Perkins said, but added, "It is clear that the current BSA leadership will bend with the winds of popular culture, and the whims of liberal special interest groups." Scouts, he said, have "capitulated to strong-arm tactics."
Stemberger of OnMyHonor.Net said the planning for another youth organization to provide an alternative to the Boy Scouts is already underway. He will convene a group on June 29 in Louisville, Ky., to "discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys." Stemberger said the meeting would be a "national coalition meeting of former BSA parents and other youth leaders who wish to return to truly timeless values that once made the BSA great."