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After vote allowing gay kids to become Boy Scouts, some families call it quits

Dan Koeck / for NBC News

Aaron Butler said that after he told his 8-year-old son Evan that they were leaving the Scouts, "he sat on my lap and cried for 10 minutes."

The father of a Cub Scout sat his son on his lap late last week and told him news that tore up both their hearts: The family was leaving the Boy Scouts.

Aaron Butler, the leader of his 8-year-old son Evan’s Cub Scout Wolf den in Roseau, Minn., said he didn't explain to his eldest son exactly why they were walking away from an organization they loved so much, but he told NBC News that it was because of last week's controversial decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay youth to participate.

“It was a big disappointment ... he cried for about 10 minutes because I told him that the Boy Scouts were not honoring their own law," Butler said, referring to the BSA oath that he interpreted as barring gay people. "They say it -- 'On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep [myself] physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight,'” he said.

“If the BSA cannot honor their own law, then how can I stay with an organization that just does not care anymore?” he said.

As many Scouts and families rejoiced over the BSA's decision to partly end the membership guidelines that had drawn criticism from supporters of LGBT rights both inside and outside the organization, many others decried the move, with some BSA members making  the tough choice to pull out of one of the nation's most popular youth organizations.

“I feel pretty bad about it,” Evan told NBC News, noting he liked the camp-outs, and archery and slingshot activities he enjoyed in Pack 56. He said that he understood there was a vote that led to his parents’ decision. He explained that he understood it as: “It was between honor and God, and not honoring God. And [not] honoring God got more votes.” 

“It was something that we all enjoyed, we loved every week of it,” said Butler, 30, who works at a window and door manufacturer. “It's a shame that BSA had just caved like a deck of cards.” 

Caved, Butler said, to pressure from activists to let gay youth join the group. The vote was approved by 61 percent of the 1,232 National Council delegates who cast a ballot at the BSA's annual meeting one week ago (another 168 delegates -- or about 12 percent of the total delegates -- were not present to cast a ballot). 

“There were divisions about how to serve kids,” Tico Perez, the BSA national commissioner, said immediately after the vote. “If we have disagreement, if we have discomfort, we are going to talk through it. America needs Scouting.”

“Our singular focus moving forward is serving more kids in Scouting, and we believe this resolution is going to do that,” he added.

When asked about families saying they would leave over the decision, BSA President Wayne Perry said last week: “We think that on reflection that many of these people will decide that the best place for their kids is in Scouting.”

A week on, BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the group couldn't yet quantify the impact of the amended policy. Most organizations that charter Scouting units were continuing with the program, but some had decided not to renew – in which case BSA executives would work with troop leadership to identify a suitable partner and ensure a smooth transition, he said.

“Our local council professionals and volunteers are reaching out to our all chartered partners to review the policy and answer questions they have,” he wrote in an email. “We are finding that when people read the new policy they see it is reflective of the beliefs of most of Scouting’s major religious chartered organizations.”

Not so for Mike A. Miller, a union electrician in Mount Holly, N.C., who said he was pulling his 9-year-old son, Cody, out of the Cub Scouts and would step down as assistant den leader of Pack 45. Monday will be his son's advancement ceremony to Webelos – as far as he will go with the organization.

He said he talked to Cody before the vote – after it was announced in February – so it wouldn't be a one-time conversation.

“It was hard to explain to a 9-year-old the complexities of why I was telling him that we had to quit,” Miller said. “He told me, 'Daddy, it should be like church. Everybody should be welcome.'”

Miller said he then told Cody that the point of going to church is to seek forgiveness — not for being all-inclusive.

“I said, 'These people aren’t asking for your forgiveness,'” Miller, 51, told NBC News in a telephone interview. “What they're doing is saying, 'this is what I am and you have to accept me like I am. I'm not coming to try to change.'

"Be it right, wrong or indifferent, the Bible that I read says [homosexuality is] a sin,” he said.

Miller said he and other families that would leave were talking about continuing some kind of program for the boys. He said he was going to look into an alternative faith-based group being put together by On My Honor — an organization started by a Florida dad and Scout volunteer, and composed of families and outside groups that oppose allowing gay youths and adults in the Boy Scouts. 

As for adult leaders and volunteers, Boy Scouts officials last week said there would be no change to the adult membership policy, which excludes gays.

That means that after a boy turns 18, he would graduate from the Boy Scouts and have to apply to become an adult leader – when the membership policy barring gays would apply.

Gay rights activists pledged to continue their campaign to include adults even as they applauded the vote. They acknowledged there could be some attrition, but said the decision was the first step in the right direction for the organization.

“Even though I think that there will probably still be a few folks who choose to walk away … I think this is the beginning of the rebound of Scouting in America,” Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality, said after the vote.

Back in Roseau, Aaron Butler lamented that his sons – he has a younger boy, 6-year-old Emmett – would not achieve the Boy Scouts' highest honor of being an Eagle Scout and all of the recognition that comes with it.

He said he had prayed weekly that the BSA “would stay straight.” Now that the vote has come and gone, he and another den leader would plot the next activity for the boys, “because we have to fill that vacuum with something good.”

“The Boy Scouts gave us a sense of pride. They have done so much for all these kids … they have made a lot of these kids full of integrity and that’s what they teach – they did teach,” he said.

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 change in 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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