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Vote on gay Scouts at emotional moment for Utah, nation

Published May 23, 2013 11:30 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a vote that will resonate in Utah, where thousands of boys participate in the Boy Scouts of America, selected leaders of the organization are deciding Thursday whether to allow gay Scouts to join. An announcement of the results is expected after 4 p.m.

Fifteen Great Salt Lake Council members have joined the 1,400 members voting on the BSA proposal, which would allow gay youth but continue to exclude gay adults.

Currently, the BSA — one of the nation's oldest youth organizations, with millions of members —denies or revokes the membership of any gay members.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest troop sponsor in the nation, with the Boy Scouts making up a large part of its youth program.

LDS Church officials have said in a statement they are "satisfied" with the latest BSA proposal to allow gay youths but exclude gay adults.

Great Salt Lake Council officials, who represent one of the nation's largest BSA groups, said they will allow each of their 15 members to "vote their conscience"

The vote is taking place at a resort in Grapevine, Texas, not far from BSA's headquarters, during the national council's three-day annual meeting. The national council will vote on the following resolution: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."

Gay-rights supporters and opponents have waged impressive campaigns to win support for their arguments in the months leading up to the vote.

Supporters of allowing gay scouts used a political consulting firm and targeted about 120 local Scouting councils where they thought the most votes could be won. Opponents cited Texas code to obtain the names and addresses of voting members from BSA officials so they could send out mailings, and held rallies across the country last week.

Scouting was established in 1910 and claims 2.6 million youth members, in addition to thousands of leaders and volunteers. Its board of directors includes executives and community leaders, and President Barack Obama is its honorary president.

Obama urged the organization to reverse the ban before a national executive board meeting that took place in February, and two high-profile board members — the CEOs of AT&T and Ernst & Young — said they would work from within to change the policy.

The national executive board decided instead to leave the final decision to a national council vote, and the BSA launched a listening tour of surveys and focus groups. BSA President Wayne Perry called on voters to approve the resolution overturning the ban in an opinion piece for USA Today published online Wednesday.

Findings that BSA published on its website illustrate the difficult balancing act it faces.

It said a majority of "adults in the Scouting community" support the current ban, but a majority of current Boy Scouts and Venture scouts do not, according to the findings. About 48 percent of parents of current Scouts support the policy, down from 57 percent three years ago.

One estimate suggested a policy change could cause as many as 100,000 to 350,000 Scouts to leave. And it could also affect donors — just more than half of local councils reported to BSA that their donors supported the current ban.

Of the more than 100,000 Scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions. While these sponsors include liberal churches opposed to any ban on gays, some of the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have previously supported the broad ban — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the LDS Church and Southern Baptist churches.

"Ultimately we can't anticipate how people will vote but we do know that the result will not match everyone's personal preference," said Deron Smith, BSA's national spokesman.