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Boy Scouts: We need more time for decision on gay membership

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Scout Pascal Tessier, 16, center left, and his Eagle Scout brother Lucien Tessier, 20 - both gay - seen here with their parents, Oliver Tessier, left, and Tracie Felker, at their home in Kensington, Md.

Published at 11:43 a.m. ET: The Boy Scouts of America said Wednesday it needed "time for a more deliberate review" of its policy banning gay Scouts and leaders, delaying a final decision on the controversial membership guidelines that have dogged the private youth organization in recent years.

"In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public. It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization," the BSA said in a statement.

"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National 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 roughly 1,400 voting members of Scouting's national council will take action on the resolution at the national meeting in May 2013, the organization said.

The BSA said last week it was considering changing the policy, leaving local sponsoring organizations free to decide for themselves whether to admit gay Scouts.

That announcement came just seven months after the BSA said it was sticking with its ban following a confidential two-year review and spurred advocates on both sides of the issue to step up their campaigns: They’d encouraged their backers to make their voices heard through a phone-in and email deluge.

A conservative group, the Family Research Council, said that it and 41 other groups ran a newspaper ad on Monday asking the BSA not to change the policy, and some conservative religious groups have urged their supporters to join in prayer to ask the board not to accept gays.

Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted as leader of her son’s Tiger Cubs den last year because she is a lesbian, said she was heartbroken over the news. She and other gay rights' advocates had hoped instead to be welcoming what they feel is an overdue change amid recent gains for the LGBT community nationwide.

The Boy Scouts of America delays until May a vote on whether to end a ban on gay members. NBC's Jay Gray reports.

"I had so much faith that they would make the right decision," Tyrrell, a mother of four from Bridgeport, Ohio, said through tears. "So many people are supportive of this. For them to make the announcement that they are going to possibly change it and then delay it, I just feel is -- it doesn’t make any sense."

She added: "A Scout is supposed to be brave. What are they waiting for? They know they are on the wrong side of history. They know that."

Courtesy Jennifer Tyrrell

Jennifer Tyrrell, of Bridgeport, Ohio, and her son Cruz. Tyrrell was ousted from her role as leader of her son's Tiger Cub den last year because she is gay.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which in 2011 sponsored 421,000 youth by chartering local troops, welcomed the decision.

"The Church is following this proposed policy change very closely," a spokesman for the church, Michael Purdy, said in an email. "We believe the BSA has acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue."

A coalition of Boy Scouts councils representing some 540,000 youth -- or 20 percent of the organization’s 2.6 million active Scouts -- asked the national organization on Monday to delay a decision on ending the controversial policy, saying it was concerned “about the pace at which such actions are being taken,” according to a statement posted on the website of the Utah-based Great Salt Lake Council.   

Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the conservative Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said the outpouring of feedback on the issue came as no surprise to him since his group felt the BSA had not allowed opponents of the change to weigh in on the proposal. Oldham said he had spoken with some troop leaders, pastors and parents -- some who said they would leave the BSA if the new policy was implemented. 

With more than two-thirds of Scouting groups affiliated with religious bodies, faith plays a large role in the private youth organization.

Oldham said Wednesday that his group was “very pleased” with the decision to wait and solicit input from all members of the Scouting family.

“We continue to be hopeful, perhaps a little bit more guardedly optimistic than we were before, that the Scouting leadership, having heard from the American public, is going to realize that yes, while it is a divisive issue, that the net loss of changing the policy may be far greater than the net gain of changing the policy,” he told NBC News.

Tyrrell’s ousting came a few months before California teen Ryan Andresen was denied his Eagle award because he is gay.

Both cases made national headlines, roiling the BSA. Some critics pointed to declining membership numbers as a sign that families were being turned off over the issue. The controversy also prompted a few hundred Eagle Scouts to turn in their hard-earned regalia in protest of the ban, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2000.

Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout and son of a lesbian couple who started Scouts for Equality to campaign for gays to be included, said Wednesday's action by the board was "an abdication of responsibility."

"Unfortunately, the BSA now has to answer to ... the hundreds of thousands of Scouts that had their hopes raised and then (subsequently) crushed by this announcement," he said. "It is disappointing, no doubt about it, no doubt about it."

If you are a current or former member of the Boy Scouts and would like to share your thoughts on how your troop, pack or council is handling the BSA's decision on the membership policy, you can email the reporter at miranda.leitsinger@msnbc.com. We may use some comments for a follow-up story, so please specify if your remarks can be used and provide your name, hometown, age, Boy Scout affiliation and a phone number.


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