A Boy Scout wears an Eagle Scout neckerchief during the annual Boy Scouts Parade and Report to State in the House Chambers at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)
The governing board of the Boy Scouts of America is expected Monday to lift its ban on openly gay employees and adult volunteers, a decision that is likely to keep the massive youth organization out of court but could divide it further.
The proposal the executive board will take up comes two years after the group lifted its ban on openly gay youth, a dramatic step for an organization whose leaders went to the Supreme Court to fight accepting openly gay members. Some 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are run by faith-based groups, many from orthodox communities including Mormons, Catholics, Southern Baptists and Muslims who do not accept gay equality.
The Scouts' smaller executive committee, whose members serve on the larger executive board, voted unanimously earlier this month to permit openly gay adults to serve as leaders. At the time, the Scouts said in a statement that the resolution "will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation."
[Monday's vote comes after another top Boy Scout body unanimously recommended it]
The organization is facing investigations into its hiring practices by prosecutors in New York and Colorado.
But the resolution allows troops chartered by a religious organization - including churches, mosques and synagogues — to discriminate, and to "continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own," said the Scouts' statement earlier this month.
It's not clear how these changes will play out in the years to come, as some conservative leaders say like-minded troops are moving away from the Scouts. Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, noted Sunday that the Scouts experienced a steep drop of more than 7 percent in membership after the youth ban was lifted in 2013.
Traditional groups, he wrote in an e-mail, are braced for the possibility that soon, even church-based groups will be required to fully accept gay leaders.
"The next step, which may be a year or two down the road, seems obvious to us," he wrote.
However, the Mormon Church, the largest group in scouting, and the Catholic Church have issued statements since 2013 affirming their desire to stay in Scouting — so long as they can continue to select leaders who reflect their teachings.
[Read recent statements from the Mormon and Catholic churches]
Zach Wahls, who is an Eagle Scout, a son of lesbian parents and executive director of the advocacy group Scouts for Equality, said Monday's vote will mean a "sigh of relief" for gay summer camp counselors or other adult volunteers who want to work with troops.
Wahls, however, called the fact that so many faith-based troops may continue to discriminate "disconcerting ... Scouting is a place to hone important life skills and a moral compass. And that should not be sullied by discrimination, I think that's really self-evident."
The benefits of Scouting are significant and the program should be kept healthy, he said.
"Even though this ban is in place, there are a lot of gay youth [in it.] That should tell you a lot about the program."
[The long road to Monday, when Boy Scouts are expected to lift ban on openly gay adult leaders]
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