A color guard of Boy Scouts from the Chief Seattle Council salute during the national anthem before a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros in Seattle, May 25, 2014.
A color guard of Boy Scouts from the Chief Seattle Council salute during the national anthem before a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros in Seattle, May 25, 2014.

The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to end its decades-long ban on gay Scout leaders is drawing a mixed reaction.

One leader in the fight to overturn the prohibition on gay Scout leaders, Eric Hay of Scouts for Equality, praised Monday's decision as overdue.

"Honestly, it is kind of a sigh of relief for me," Hay said. "I have been working on this for a few years with Scouts for Equality, and it is nice knowing whenever I do want to get back into Scouts, that I am going to be able to do so as an adult leader."

But Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national group supporting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, said the Boy Scouts' decision was partly undermined because the organization will still permit church-sponsored groups to continue to exclude gay Scout leaders.

"Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period," Griffin said.

Church 'deeply troubled'

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more Boy Scout units than any other organization, said it was "deeply troubled" by the policy change, which takes effect immediately, and said it would consider starting its own scouting group to replace the Boy Scouts.

"The admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America," the church said.

A more nuanced response came from the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which expressed interest in maintaining its ties with the BSA but also voiced concerns. Notably, it conveyed a reluctance to accept participation by anyone who engaged in sexual conduct outside a heterosexual marriage.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Boy Scouts' president, said, "For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us.  Now it is time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good."

Two months ago, Gates told the Boy Scouts' national meeting that the ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable.  He said the group would most likely be sued over the issue and lose a court fight.

He cited an announcement by the BSA's New York City chapter in early April that it had hired Pascal Tessier, the nation's first openly gay Eagle Scout, as a summer camp leader. Gates also cited broader gay-rights developments and warned that rigidly maintaining the ban "will be the end of us as a national movement.''

Loss of donations

The BSA's right to exclude gays was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. But since then, the policy has prompted numerous major corporations to suspend charitable donations to the Scouts and strained relations with some municipalities. More recently, the BSA faced a civil rights investigation in New York and lawsuits in other states over the ban.

Kenneth Upton, a lawyer for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, questioned whether the BSA's new policy to let church-sponsored units continue to exclude gay adults would be sustainable.

"There will be a period of time where they'll have some legal protection,'' Upton said. "But that doesn't mean the lawsuits won't keep coming. ... They will become increasingly marginalized from the direction society is going.''

Like several other major youth organizations, the Boy Scouts have experienced a membership decline in recent decades. Current membership, according to the BSA, is about 2.4 million boys and about 1 million adults.

After the 2013 decision to admit gay youths, some conservatives split from the BSA to form a new group, Trail Life USA, which has created its own ranks, badges and uniforms. The group claims a membership of more than 25,000 youths and adults.

Some information for this report came from AP.