(DALLAS) — The Boy Scouts of America Thursday voted to lift its longtime ban on admitting gay Scouts but will continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership roles.
The vote by its 1,400 national membership came as no surprise to gay rights advocates, who hailed it as a first step to ending discriminatory practices in the 103-year-old organization.
The ruling by secret ballot at a national convention in Dallas means that mothers like Jennifer Tyrrell, who is a lesbian, will still be excluded from the Boy Scouts.
Tyrrell was let go as an Ohio den leader of her 8-year-old son Cruz’s Cub Scout pack last year because she was gay, but she applauds what she sees as a “temporary” policy.
“It’s a great first step, and the fact that they’ve gone to the Supreme Court to defend the right to discriminate shows the progress we’ve made,” the 33-year-old mother of four told ABC News.
“I am encouraged because we definitely are in it for the long haul,” said Tyrrell. “Once the ban is lifted on youth, they will see their fears are unfounded. There are going to be [gay] boys who want to continue as leaders. It’s just a matter of time.”
She said she would continue to fight for other gay families who wanted to be part of the Scouts.
But others, such as former Eagle Scout James Dale, who brought the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000, said the partial lifting of the ban was “unacceptable.”
In 1991, he was fired as an assistant Scoutmaster of a New Jersey troop when he came out of the closet in college. He lost the Supreme Court case by one vote.
Growing up, Dale said he found the Boy Scouts to be “one of the organizations that were the most welcoming and accepting.”
But today, he sees it as an “anti-gay organization” that is out of step with a culture that is rapidly accepting same-sex families.
“You can have gay Scouts, [but] you can’t have gay Scout leaders or anyone over the age of 18,” said Dale, who’s now 42 and works in advertising in New York City.
“It’s still a damning and destructive message that they’re going to send to young people. They will go from celebrated Eagle Scout when they’re 17 years old to basically not being welcome anymore once the clock strikes 12 and they’re 18 years old.”
“It’s kind of fascinating that the Boy Scouts of America are still so stuck,” he said. “They’re willing to destroy the organization. Over some…small-minded values.”
About 70 percent of all local troops are supported by religious groups, according to the Boy Scouts, and in recent months, some have backed away from their opposition, according to the gay advocacy group GLAAD.
The Mormon church, which sponsors most of the troops, has now endorsed allowing gay Scouts. The Roman Catholic Church has taken no official position. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church all urged full repeal of the ban.
But many other Christian groups stood firm in protest, citing religious freedom and the previous Supreme Court decision.
Nearly 19,000 past or current members of the Scouts signed a petition from Alliance Defending Freedom, which was delivered to the Boy Scouts this week, urging it to keep the ban.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Kareem Khadder, CNN
Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Aaron Smith and Jon Ostrower, CNN
Stephen Collinson and Eric Bradner, CNN