Some advocates of banning gay children and teens from the Boy Scouts of America were infuriated by the decisive Thursday vote that ended the organization's longtime policy, but the largest religious sponsor of scout troops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said the change merely reflects what has been the church's standing policy.
Sixty-one percent of delegates attending the Boy Scouts national council meeting in Grapevine, Texas, voted in favor of the change to allow gay scouts. The policy change will take effect in January 2014. Gay adults are still prohibited from volunteering.
"Sexual orientation has not previously been – and is not now – a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops," said a statement posted to the church's website. "Willingness to abide by standards of behavior continues to be our compelling interest."
Those standards include abstinence from pre-marital sex, the church said. "We trust that BSA will implement and administer the approved policy in an appropriate and effective manner," the statement says.
Reuters reports that the Mormon Church sponsors around 38,000 troops that include close to 250,000
scouts. The United Methodist Church sponsors fewer than 11,000 troops, but those groups contain more than 363,000 scouts. Methodists were on both sides of the debate, according to a post on the church's website.
The Mormon Church was harshly condemned by some gay rights supporters for its efforts to push California's Proposition 8 in 2008, which successfully ended a brief period of legal same-sex marriages in the state. The church has since been less visible during public spates over gay rights.
Mormon Church leaders are circulating a letter to all local congregations instructing them to abide by the new scouting policy. More than 70 percent of Boy Scouts troops are sponsored by religious organizations, according to statistics kept by the Boy Scouts.
Vocal opponents of allowing gay scouts protested outside the Texas meeting where Boy Scouts national council delegates voted for the policy change.
OnMyHonor.Net, which encouraged prayers against the change, and the socially conservative Family Research Council took out an ad in The Dallas Morning News Thursday supporting the gay ban. A statement on the website said a "coalition" of ban supporters will meet privately next month in Louisville, Ky., to "discuss the creation of a new character development organization for boys."
It's unclear how many opponents of gay scouts will bolt from the national organization. A survey conducted by the Boy Scouts earlier this year predicted widespread defections if the ban affecting gay youth and adults was scrapped in its entirety.
"We grieve today, not because we are faced with leaving Scouting, but because the Boy Scouts of America has left us," said the website's statement. "Its leadership has turned its back on 103 years of abiding by a mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices."
The ban on gay scouts was often unenforced and sometimes openly flouted, but the Family Research Council's president, Tony Perkins, said its official doom was the result of national council delegates "capitulat[ing] to strong-arm tactics" after a "concerted and manipulative effort by the national BSA leadership."
"[W]e will stand with those BSA Councils who will now act to protect boys from a new policy that only creates moral confusion and disrespects the views of the vast majority of Scouting parents," Perkins said.
Perkins predicted that "God will soon be ushered out of scouting," presumably referencing the continued Boy Scouts membership ban affecting nonreligious youth and adults.
Debate over the gay membership 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.
A 2008 statement on the Boy Scouts national council's website explains the continued ban prohibiting nonreligious members.