The Boy Scouts of America will end its longstanding ban on gay youth while maintaining a ban on gay adult leaders after a historic vote today at the organization's annual national meeting in Dallas.
More than 61 percent of the 1,400 members of the BSA's 270 councils voted to lift the ban earlier this afternoon, but the results of the secret ballot were not revealed until three hours later.
"No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," the resolution stated. Supported by the BSA leadership and released in April after months of pressure from outside organizations, for the first time in the organization's 103-year history, Scouts under the age of 18 who are gay will no longer be kicked out because of their sexual orientation. The policy will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
Although the vote was a major win for advocates, it was also not the end of a fight that has gone on for decades.
"Today is a historic day for Boy Scouts across the country who want to be a part of this great American institution," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. "But the new policy doesn't go far enough. Parents and adults of good moral character, regardless of sexual orientation, should be able to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation of Americans."
"The Boy Scouts of America can do better," added Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and founder of Scouts for Equality, in a statement. "We welcome the news that the ban on gay Scouts is history, but our work isn't over until we honor the Scout Law by making this American institution open and affirming to all."
In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the BSA could prohibit gay people from serving. But as the tide of public opinion about homosexuality has shifted (a recent Gallup poll found 54 percent of American adults consider gay relations morally acceptable), pressure has increased for the BSA to catch up with the times.
Almost one year ago, in July, the BSA upheld its ban on gay youth and leaders. The ban's reaffirmation came after the recommendation of an anonymous 11-member committee that studied the issue for two years.
However, following public backlash and countless outside petitions launched by Change.org that saw nearly 2 million people call for an end to the ban as well as organizing efforts by GLAAD, the BSA sought another review. According to a BSA release from April announcing the proposed resolution, the response the BSA received was clear: "While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community, and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting.”
In a column published Wednesday in USA Today, BSA President Wayne Perry called for adoption of the resolution as the "right decision for Boy Scouts."
"The BSA's executive committee unanimously presented this resolution because it stays true to Scouting's mission and remains focused on kids," Perry wrote. "No matter what your opinion is on this issue, America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation's children."
Although conservative groups warned lifting the ban on gay youth would lead to the destruction of an American institution, the resolution received a major boost when the Mormon Church, which is the largest sponsor of Scout units, said it was "satisfied" with the BSA's proposal.
But while today's vote was a victory for advocates, they insist their work is not yet finished, although the BSA indicated in a statement that they have "no plans for further review on this matter." For adults who wish to work for the BSA or volunteer as leaders for Scout troops, the BSA will still prohibit them from doing so.
"Having to look my son, Cruz, in the eye and tell him that our family isn't good enough was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Today is truly a watershed moment for me, but even more so for the millions of kids across this country, who will now be allowed to serve in the Scouts without fear of rejection," said Jennifer Tyrrell, the Ohio lesbian mother who was ousted as leader of her son's Cub Scout pack in April 2012. "I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue."