LOS ANGELES — The Boy Scouts of America announced Friday a proposal to allow gay youths to join the program, a move that, if approved, would mark a dramatic shift for one of the nation’s oldest and most traditional youth organizations.
The proposal, which would continue to bar homosexual men from serving as Scout leaders, will be voted on at a May meeting of the organization’s national council, Scouting officials said.
“We believe the BSA can no longer sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, controversial and unresolved societal issue,” national president Wayne Perry said in a statement announcing the proposal.
The proposed resolution states, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
The proposal comes after months of intense pressure from both within and outside the organization, which has shown signs of confusion and division within its leadership.
Supporters of lifting the ban include several prominent Scouting board members, corporate funders, President Obama and his Republican challenger in last year’s election Mitt Romney, several U.S. senators, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others. Petitions purportedly bearing 1.4 million signatures were presented at Scouting headquarters in Texas.
But the ban retained strong backing among important Scouting constituencies, including the Southern Baptist Convention and conservative groups like the Family Research Council.
Last July, Scouting officials announced that after a two-year confidential review the organization had decided to keep the no-gays policy, which is essentially “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Experts at the time said the decision reflected the conservative values of many members, as well as the influence of the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches.
But in late January, word leaked out that the organization might retreat from that position and allow local groups to decide.
“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue,” spokesman Deron Smith said at the time.
A week later, however, the Scouts’ national board, buffeted by the furor that had erupted around the proposal, postponed a vote until its meeting in May.
In the months since, Scouting has conducted what it calls “the most comprehensive listening exercise in its history,” holding more than 250 town-hall meetings across the country and polling more than 1 million members, Friday’s statement said.
Scouting’s members remain deeply divided on the issue, and the proposed policy is an effort to find a middle ground by allowing gay youths to participate while upholding the ban on gay adults.
“America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our kids,” said Perry. “We believe good people can disagree and still work together to accomplish great things for youth.”