In a decision effective immediately, the Boy Scouts of America has lifted the group's ban on gay leaders and employees. The move comes three years after the group removed its ban on gay youth.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) ended its ban on gay troop leaders Monday, marking a historic shift after years of internal conflict and legal proceedings.
The measure was approved by nearly 80 percent of the organization's executive board and is effective immediately.
While the BSA has removed the national ban on gay adults, the organization however will still permit individual chapters to bar gay adults from being scout leaders if hiring them would violate the unit's religious beliefs.
"This change allows Scouting's members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families," the BSA said on its website.
"This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own."
Some 2.5 million members and a million adult volunteers comprise the Boy Scouts of America and about 70 percent of its chapters are run by church groups, which has complicated efforts to reform the ban on gay scout leaders.
The Mormon Church, which runs the greatest number of BSA chapters, issued a statement earlier this month saying it "has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs." The organization added however that lifting the ban was inevitable in light of social and political changes in the US in recent years.
BSA national president and former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned in May that the courts could force the organization to change its policies if it failed to do so on its own.
"We must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later," said Gates, who was himself an avid scout as a child.
The BSA, whose stated mission is to prepare youth for life and leadership, officially began accepting gay youths into their ranks in January 2014 after a ban of more than two decades.
John Stemberger, who chairs the Christian youth outdoor program Trail Life USA, called lifting the ban an affront to Christian morals and said it would make it "even more challenging for a church to integrate a (Boy Scouts) unit as part of a church's ministry offerings."
Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, has called the ban on gay troop leaders a "towering example of explicit, institutional homophobia."
bw/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)