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Boy Scouts' historic vote won't end the debate

One of America's best-known youth groups boasting 2.6 million members scrapped its 22-year-old ban on gay Boy Scouts on Thursday, but gay adults are still banned from serving as Scout leaders. NBC's Craig Melvin reports.

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Seen as a small step toward a greater goal or a wrong step for a century-old organization, a vote Thursday to lift a ban on gay youth in the Boy Scouts won't end the debate.

Over 61 percent of Scouting's National Council of 1,232 delegates from across the country voted to lift the ban during the Boy Scouts of America’s annual national gathering. The policy change will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

"This has been a challenging chapter in our history," said Wayne Brock, the BSA's chief Scout executive. "Our goal through all of this was to put the kids first."

What was not considered Thursday was lifting a ban on gay Scout leaders.

"We have not changed our adult membership standards. They have served us well for the last 100 years. Those were not on the table," said Tico Perez, BSA national commissioner.

And so while the nation’s approximately 116,000 Scouting units and 3 million members officially must open their doors to gay youth, a push to change those adult membership standards will resume.

"One day, we'll be back, and I'm not going to stop until we're there," said Ohio mom Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted in April 2012 as den leader of her son's Tiger Cub pack because she is a lesbian.

"Tomorrow, we're going to start the next phase, and I'm ready."

Some opponents of ending the ban said they would pull their sponsorships of packs and troops, and parents threatened to take their boys out of Scouting.

Rusty Tisdale, assistant Scoutmaster for a troop in Ellisville, Miss., hopes there is a local option that would allow the decision on gay members to be made at the troop level. Otherwise, he will pull his kids.

"I'm not happy as a parent," Tisdale emailed to NBC News. "The gay activist isn't happy and will not be until homosexuals can be leaders, etc. So there will be more pressure, and more fighting, And more acquiescence. No thanks."

"There are other activities for my kids to do," he added. "There are other organizations that I can support with my time and money."

The ban on gay Scouts has been the subject of much soul-searching in the organization – from local troops and councils to national board meetings. The dispute was even heard by the Supreme Court, which said 13 years ago that as a private membership organization, the BSA was free to decide who it would admit.

Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy after a two-year examination by a committee. Since then, some local chapters had been pushing for a reconsideration.

More than 70 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by religious groups, and this compromise proposal has split them. One of the Southern Baptist Church leaders, Dr. Frank Page, last week implored the Boy Scouts not to change the policy. But The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – the BSA's biggest charter partner – had given tacit endorsement to the plan.

BSA President Wayne Perry said the vote came after an "extensive," "exhaustive," and "respectful" dialogue among the members of the organization.

"It's a very difficult decision for a lot of people, but we are moving forward together," he said. "Our vision is to serve every kid."

Pascal Tessier, a gay 16-year-old from Kensington, Md., felt hopeful after the vote. He believes he can get his Eagle rank — the Scouts' highest honor — in the fall.

"There are a lot of things going through my head," he said. "The initial reaction is ecstatic because I can go home and tell everyone that I'm still a Boy Scout."

But he said he also felt bad for gay leaders.

 

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