The Boy Scouts of America's national council is voting in Grapevine, Texas, on a proposal to allow gay youths to be members, potentially ending a policy that has been publicly debated for years.
The council's 1,400 delegates began voting before noon Thursday and the results are expected to be announced around 6 p.m. EDT., The Dallas Morning News reports.
The ban is often ignored and difficult to enforce, but has resulted in decades of controversy for the national organization that currently boasts 2,658,794 scouts and 1,039,825 adult leaders. Gay scouts and former scouts publicly campaigned for the change.
Some Boy Scouts councils are already openly flouting the ban.
Michael Abrahamson, president of the Connecticut Yankee Council, which claims 17,000 scouts and 4,600 adult volunteers, said his group ignores the ban.
"Scouting in the Connecticut Yankee Council is open to all youth and adults who subscribe to the values of the Scout Oath and Law regardless of their personal sexual orientation," Abrahamson said in a Wednesday statement posted on the council's website. "Prejudice, intolerance and unlawful discrimination of any form are unacceptable within our membership."
Supporters of the ban brought their children to protest near the Grapevine meeting. One sign held by a young boy read, "Keep Scouts Morally Straight." The Family Research Council and the website OnMyHonor.Net purchased an ad in The Morning News's Thursday edition encouraging delegates to support the ban.
The proposal was touted as a compromise when the organization's executive committee unveiled the plan in April. If passed, the resolution would continue to ban gay adults from serving in leadership positions.
"The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," said a statement released last month by the executive committee.
As with the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which was discontinued in 2011, the Boy Scouts ban was motivated in part by concerns about sexual contact among members.
The ban also appeased the religious and socially conservative organizations that sponsor many troops. A survey circulated by the group's executive committee earlier this year found that 51 percent of major donors opposed repealing the ban.
Debate over the ban reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in the 2000 case, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, that the organization has a right to banish undesired members.
In addition to its ban on gay scouts, the group also bans atheists, regardless of age. A 2008 statement on the Boy Scouts national council's website explains that ban.
"Boy Scouts of America believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God," says the statement. "Because of Scouting's methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders."