GRAPEVINE, Texas - In an emotionally charged vote Thursday, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay youths starting in January, the latest sign of a shift in American attitudes toward gays and lesbians.
After months of debate in local districts, more than 61 percent of the Boy Scouts national council approved a resolution at its annual meeting overturning the long-standing prohibition on openly gay youths, while retaining a ban on gay adult leaders. Of 1,232 votes, 757 were in favor.
Gay advocates called the vote a step in the right direction for the 103-year-old group, among the nation's largest youth organizations with more than 2.6 million youth members.
"Today's vote ending discrimination of gay Scouts is truly a historic moment and demonstrates the Boy Scouts of America's commitment to creating a more inclusive organization," said Zach Wahls, 21, an Iowa Eagle Scout raised by lesbian mothers who founded Scouts for Equality, which advocates for gays in Scouting. He traveled to Texas for the vote.
Some Scout officials who participated in the vote said they wish the group had gone further.
"We are disappointed that it doesn't include everybody," said Alan Snyder, chairman of the board of the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America, who voted for the proposal. "Inclusive should be all-inclusive."
Opponents vowed to fight the new policy, which they warned would damage flagging membership and funding.
Some protesters who opposed lifting the ban had gathered in Boy Scout uniforms on the road leading into the hotel. A few returned Thursday, looking crestfallen.
"It's a disaster," said William Tarbell, 68, a Boy Scout unit commissioner from Reno, Nev., taking off his 60-year-old broad-brimmed Scouting cap. "I will no longer wear it."
Jonathan Saenz, president of the Austin-based conservative advocacy group Texas Values, which organized one of the protests outside the annual meeting, called the vote a "tragic decision" that showed the Boy Scouts had "chosen to place sex and politics above its timeless principles."
He blamed national leaders who called for the vote and "willingly opened the door to allow homosexual advocates to overrun an organization that stands for a code of morality that these intolerant advocates reject."
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/multimedia for an interactive timeline on the Boy Scouts' position on homosexuality and Scouting.