7 Feb 2013

Boy Scouts organisation delays vote on gay ban

6:26 am on 7 February 2013

The Boy Scouts of America organisation has delayed until May a vote on whether to end a long-standing and controversial ban on gay membership.

The board had been expected to vote on the matter at a meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, but said that due to the complexity of the issue, it needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.

Groups for and against changing the policy have been lobbying fiercely since Boy Scouts of America said on 28 January it was considering removing the national restriction based on sexual orientation and leaving the decision to local chapters, Reuters reports.

The national executive board, which lists more than 70 members, has been meeting privately since Monday at a Texas hotel.

Many local chapters have said they were waiting for the board to render a verdict before weighing in. A coalition of 33 councils that represent about one-fifth of all youth members has asked the board to delay the vote for more study.

Gay rights activists, who have said it would not go far enough to lift the national ban but permit local bans to stand, said they were disappointed by the decision to put off the vote.

Activists including Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian from Ohio who was forced out as a den leader, delivered more than 1.4 million signatures to the Boy Scouts on Monday on petitions seeking an end to the policy.

"A scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today," Ms Tyrrell said in a statement on Wednesday. "The Boy Scouts had the chance to help countless young people and devoted parents, but they've failed us yet again."

Supporters of the ban including the group "Save our Scouts" plan a prayer vigil on Wednesday at Boy Scouts headquarters.

The Boy Scouts won a 5-4 US Supreme Court ruling in 2000 that upheld its right to ban gays, but the organisation has come under increasing public pressure in recent years from activists.

Youth membership in the organisation, which prides itself on teaching boys life skills such as camping and leadership, has declined 21% to less than 2.7 million since 2000.