In a landmark decision that reversed more than 100 years of policy, the Boy Scouts of America has removed its ban on openly gay scouts. The decision came in a vote Thursday at the meeting of the Boy Scouts' National Council near the group's headquarters just outside Dallas. Of the approximately 1,400 voting members on the council, 61% voted in favor of the change, which takes effect January 1st. "Our goal throughout all of this was to put kids first," said BSA Chief Executive Wayne Brock after the vote. "While people have differing opinions about this policy, kids are better off when they're in Scouting."
BSA National Commissioner Tico Perez echoed the theme of inclusion. "We decided (with this vote), the single most important thing we could do as a movement is offer our movement to more and more children," he said. "We're excited that's what we have done." But many opponents of the new policy don't see it that way. John Stemberger, founder of the group On My Honor, which supports keeping the Scouts' traditional policy, said in a statement the organization has turned a "tragic corner" by allowing "open and avowed homosexuality into Scouting," making it an "unprincipled and risky proposition for parents." Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is an Eagle Scout, also expressed his unhappiness, saying he was "greatly disappointed with this decision."
BSA leaders understand the opposition, which includes threats by some church-sponsored scouting groups to defect from the organization completely over the policy change. "America needs Scouting," said Perez. "Those churches know that their children are better off in Scouting, and we're going to continue to work with those organizations and those folks." Brock is also preaching a message of unity among Scouting members. "It's time to move forward and it's time to stand together," he said. "America needs Scouting, and everyone within the Scouting family needs to work to stay focused on that which unites us." The new policy only lifts the ban on gay Scouts, not on gay Scout leaders.