The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its blanket ban on gay adult leaders while allowing church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons.
The new policy, aimed at easing a controversy that has embroiled the Boy Scouts for years, takes effect immediately. It was approved by the BSA's National Executive Board on a 45-12 vote during a closed-to-the-media teleconference.
"For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us," said the BSA's president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "Now it's time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good."
Initial reactions to the decision from groups on both sides suggested the issue would remain divisive.
The Mormon church, which sponsors more Scout units that any other organization, said it was "deeply troubled" by the decision. Church officials suggested they would look into the possibility of forming their own organization to replace Boy Scouts.
"The admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America," said a statement from Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City.
In contrast, the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights organization, said the Boy Scouts should not allow church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays.
"Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period," said the HRC's president, Chad Griffin. "BSA officials should now demonstrate true leadership and begin the process of considering a full national policy of inclusion."
Leo Cusimano is a North Texas Eagle Scout who publishes Dallas Voice, a weekly newspaper for the gay community.
"I was in scouting for many years and at 17, I was a troop leader,” said Cusimano. “I was the senior patrol leader."
Cusimano and his partner of 33 years have two adopted boys who are both now in scouting.
"Both troops accepted a child with two dads, but I couldn't be a leader in the troop, and frankly, I didn't want to be a leader in the troop until the policy changed,” he said.
Cusimano looks forward to again becoming involved. He believes the lifting of the ban on gay leaders is the right thing to do.
"I think in any system you should have safeguards and tools in place to make sure you are getting the right leaders,” he said. "I think the main thing is any discrimination is harmful for kids, and I think that's the message that's important to have out there."
But Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas is just as adamant that lifting the ban is the wrong way to go.
"Just a few years ago, the Boy Scouts were forced to release 14,000 pages of documents revealing thousands of cases of sexual assault against boys,” said Jeffress. “And while it's true the majority of homosexuals are not pedophiles, it's equally true that in 100 percent of these troop leaders who assaulted boy Scouts, 100 percent of them were homosexuals."
BSA says individual troop sponsors can opt out ot the policy change based on religious beliefs and continue to ban gay leaders.
The vast majority of troops are sponsored by churches.
But Jeffress expects that down the road, lifting of the ban will be made mandatory across the board.
"Look, my advice to parents who are asking me about this is if you are concerned about the safety of your boys, you should run, not walk, away from the Boy Scouts as quickly as possible,” said Jeffress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.