By David Crary
NEW YORK (AP) -- The executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America has unanimously approved a resolution that would end the organization's blanket ban on gay adult leaders and let individual scout units set their own policy on the long-divisive issue.
In a statement Monday, the BSA said the resolution was approved by the 17-member executive committee on Friday, and would become official policy if ratified by the organization's 80-member National Executive Board at a meeting on July 27.
The committee action follows an emphatic speech in May by the BSA's president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, declaring that the longstanding ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable.
In 2013, after bitter internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders. That change took effect in January 2014.
Scout leader Jesse Pacem, left, directs Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as they prepare to lead marchers at the 41st annual Pride Parade Sunday, June 28, 2015, in Seattle. Large turnouts were expected for gay pride parades across the U.S. following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples can marry anywhere in the country. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Under the new resolution, local scout units would be able to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation - a stance that several scout councils had already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.
"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 statement said. "This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own."
Several denominations that sponsor large numbers of Scout units - including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention - have been apprehensive about ending the ban on gay adults.
Gates, who became the BSA's president in May 2014, said at the time that he personally would have favored ending the ban on gay adults, but he opposed any further debate after the Scouts' policymaking body upheld the ban. In May, however, he said at the BSA's annual national meeting that recent events "have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore."
He cited a defiant announcement by the BSA's New York City chapter in early April that it had hired the nation's first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader. He also cited broader developments related to gay rights, and warned that rigidly maintaining the ban "will be the end of us as a national movement."
The Scouts' resolution was hailed by Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian moms who now heads the advocacy group Scouts for Equality.
"While this policy change is not perfect - BSA's religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate against gay adults - it is difficult to overstate the importance of today's announcement," Wahls said.