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Updated at 1:08 p.m. ET
IRVING, Texas The Boy Scouts of America said Wednesday it needed more time before deciding whether to move away from its divisive policy of excluding gays as scouts or adult leaders. A decision was pushed back to the group's annual meeting in May.
The scouting organization last week said it was considering allowing troops to decide whether to allow gay membership. It would be the latest step in the national debate over gay rights in the U.S., where some states allow gay marriage and the Supreme Court in March will consider questions over married gay couples' equal rights to federal benefits.
"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," Deron Smith, the BSA director of public relations, said in a statement.
"My attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life," said Mr. Obama, who as U.S. president is the honorary president of BSA, in a Sunday interview with CBS News.
Others, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an Eagle Scout, opposed it. Concerns have been raised about addressing issues related to sexuality among groups of boys, some of whom haven't reached puberty.
The author of the book "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For," Perry said in a speech Saturday that "to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate."
Under intense pressure from both sides, the BSA board met behind closed doors Wednesday. It became clear that the proposed change would be unacceptable to large numbers of Scouting families and advocacy groups on the left and right.
Gay-rights supporters said no Scout units should be allowed to exclude gays, while some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban was eased.
About 70 percent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Michael Purdy, a Mormon church spokesman, said the BSA "acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue."
Shortly after the delay was announced, conservative supporters of the ban held a rally and prayer vigil Wednesday at the headquarters, carrying signs reading, "Don't Invite Sin Into the Camp," and "The only voice that matters is God!"
Early reaction to the delay from gay-rights supporters was harshly critical of the BSA.
"A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today," said Jennifer Tyrrell, a mother ousted from her post as a Cub Scout volunteer because she's a lesbian.
Brad Hankins, campaign director of Scouts for Equality, said the delay would have a direct impact on young men already in the scouting movement.
"By postponing this decision, thousands of currently active Scouts still remain uncertain about their future in the program and are shamed into silence," Hankins said. "We understand that this change is a huge paradigm shift for some, but this isn't a religious issue. It's simply one of human morality, and that is something common to all faiths."
The BSA board faces several choices, none of which is likely to quell the controversy. Not changing the policy would go against the public wishes of two high-profile board members - Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson - who run companies with nondiscrimination policies and have said they would work from within to change the Scouts' policy.
"In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public," said the BSA's national spokesman, Deron Smith.
Smith said the executive board "concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy." The board will prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the national council, he said.
One protester, Maggie Wright, 67, said she was disappointed that the movement didn't decide straight away to maintain the ban. She said she has two grandsons who are active in the scouting movement, one aged 11, and she is concerned about homosexuals teaching the young men.
"We're not condoning or hating," she said.
Media Statement: Boy Scouts of America
Monday, January 28, 2013
“For more than 100 years Scouting’s focus has been on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. Scouting has always been in an ongoing dialogue with the Scouting family to determine what is in the best interest of the organization and the young people we serve.
“Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, but that the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.
“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. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”
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The Boy Scout of America is considering ending its longstanding national membership restrictions based on sexual orientation.
Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement that the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national organization's restriction, allowing membership and the selection of scout leaders to be determined by local chartered organizations "consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs.
"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," Smith said.
Scouting officials will take up the matter at next week's scheduled national Board meeting.
Smith said that the BSA would not dictate a position to units, members, or parents, "[or] require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent" with that organization's principles or religious beliefs.
Smith said that the change, if implemented, would allow scouts and their parents to choose a local chapter that best suits their needs.
Last July, following a confidential two-year review by a special committee, the national organization reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays, despite protest campaigns by critics. The committee determined that maintaining the ban was "absolutely the best policy" for the Boy Scouts, Smith told The Associated Press at the time.
Since 2000, the Boy Scouts have been targeted with numerous protest campaigns and run afoul of some local nondiscrimination laws because of the membership policy.
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