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Boy Scouts gay exclusion vote delayed until May

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IRVING, Texas (AP) - A spokesman for the Mormon church says the Boy Scouts "acted wisely" today in putting off any decision about whether to admit gays as scouts or adult leaders. The Mormons are among the religious groups that have urged the Scouts not to end their current ban on gays.

Scout officials today decided that any decision on changing the policy on gays will be up to the 1,400 voting members of the group's national council at a meeting in Texas in May. The organization's executive board will prepare a resolution to be voted on by the council.

A proposed change would have allowed individual troops to decide whether to admit gays. But gay rights groups said no Scout units should be allowed to exclude gays. And some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, said there would be large numbers of defections from the Scouts if the policy were to be changed.

A Boy Scouts spokesman says there's been "an outpouring of feedback from the American public" in the past couple of weeks.

Gay rights supporters are critical of the delay. Jennifer Tyrell, an Ohio mother who was removed from her post as a Cub Scout volunteer because she's a lesbian said, "A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today."

Possible changes in the policy - such as a proposal to allow sponsors of local troops to decide for themselves on gay membership - will not be voted on until the organization's annual meeting in May, the national executive board said at the conclusion of closed-door deliberations.

As the board met over three days at a hotel in Irving, near Dallas, it became clear that the proposed change would be unacceptable to large numbers of Scouting families and advocacy groups on the left and right. Gay-rights supporters said no Scout units should be allowed to exclude gays, while some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban were eased.

"In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public," said the BSA's national spokesman, Deron Smith. "It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization."

Smith said the executive board "concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy." The board will prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the national council at a meeting in Grapevine, Texas, he said.

The BSA announced last week it was considering allowing scout troops to decide whether to allow gay membership. That news placed a spotlight on the executive board meeting that began Monday in Irving, where the BSA headquarters is located, but the deliberations were closed to the news media and the public.

Early reaction to the delay from gay-rights supporters was harshly critical of the BSA.

"A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today," said Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother ousted from her post as a Cub Scout volunteer because she's a lesbian. "The Boy Scouts had the chance to help countless young people and devoted parents, but they've failed us yet again."

Brad Hankins, campaign director of Scouts for Equality, said the delay would have a direct impact on young men already in the scouting movement.

"By postponing this decision, thousands of currently active Scouts still remain uncertain about their future in the program and are shamed into silence. We understand that this change is a huge paradigm shift for some, but this isn't a religious issue. It's simply one of human morality, and that is something common to all faiths."

About 70 percent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Michael Purdy, a Mormon church spokesman, said the BSA "acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue."

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting said it would join in the BSA's consultations over the coming months. Whatever the outcome, the committee said, "Catholic chartered units will continue to provide leaders who promote and live Catholic values."

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