Boy Scouts to consider lifting ban on openly gay youths

(CNN) -- The Boy Scouts of America would no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation, but would maintain its ban on openly gay adult leaders under a proposal it is considering, the group said Friday.

The organization's executive committee made the proposal, which is expected to be presented to the Boy Scouts' voting members in May. If the policy is approved, it would take effect starting January 1.

"If approved, the resolution would mean that 'no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.' The BSA will maintain the current membership policy for all adults," Boy Scouts public relations director Deron Smith said.

The Boys Scouts have been considering a change in the longstanding policy against allowing openly gay members. In February, the Boy Scouts' national executive board postponed a vote on lifting its outright ban on openly gay Scouts and troop leaders and ordered a survey of its members on the issue.

A generational shift in attitudes

The survey showed a generational split between adults and youth in the scouting community. While most adults in the scouting community support the Boy Scouts' current policy of "excluding open and avowed homosexuals, young parents and teens tend to oppose the policy," according to the survey, which was also released Friday.

Gay activists cheered the attempt to end the scouting ban on gay youth but questioned barring those youth once they become adults.

"Barring discrimination against gay youth is an important step forward that is in the best interest of young people and scouting in America," said lawyer Evan Wolfson, who represented former Scout James Dale in his unsuccessful Supreme Court case to strike down the ban.

"But leaving in place a discriminatory policy once those kids grow up still sends a damaging message to gay and nongay young people that is inconsistent with the other values that scouting claims to teach."

A distinguished Eagle Scout, Dale was serving as an assistant scoutmaster when he was kicked out of the Boy Scouts in 1990 for being gay. He filed a lawsuit against the organization in New Jersey in 1992, saying his expulsion violated state anti-discrimination law. His case made it to the Supreme Court in 2000, and the court ruled that the Boy Scouts could refuse membership to people who identify as gay.