The Boy Scouts of America threw open its ranks Thursday to gay Scouts but not gay Scout leaders - a fiercely contested compromise that some warned could fracture the organization and lead to mass defections of members and donors.
Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.
'While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting,' the BSA said after announcing the results at the council's annual meeting near Dallas.
However, the outcome will not end the bitter debate over the Scouts' membership policy.
Liberal Scout leaders - while supporting the proposal to accept gay youth - have made clear they want the ban on gay adults lifted as well.
In contrast, conservatives with the Scouts - including some churches that sponsor Scout units - wanted to continue excluding gay youths, in some cases threatening to defect if the ban were lifted.
'We are deeply saddened,' said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee after learning of the result. 'Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law.'
The Assemblies of God, another conservative denomination, said the policy change 'will lead to a mass exodus from the Boy Scout program.'The problem with a compromise is that neither side is happy.