The Boy Scouts claim 2.6 million members nationwide, but have seen membership drop in recent years. About 70 percent of troops are sponsored by religious groups, some of which have threatened to pull their charters if the ban is lifted. But others, including the largest sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, support the proposal.
Opponents include leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Cruz released a statement late Wednesday saying, “I respect the Boy Scouts’ right to make their own decisions as a private organization, but I personally hope they will continue their current policy as I believe it’s in the best interest for members, their families, and the Boy Scout tradition.”
Supporters of the change include several other U.S. senators, President Obama and his Republican challenger in last year’s election, Mitt Romney.
Backers gathered more than 1.8 million petition signatures in favor of gays in Scouting, while opponents gathered nearly 19,000 signatures.
Zach Wahls, a 21-year-old Eagle Scout from Iowa who was raised by lesbian mothers, helped gather signatures and lobby Boy Scout leaders through the group he founded, Scouts for Equality.
He said gay activists were excited the issue had come to a vote, and did extensive field work to secure about 400 votes this week, enough that they were hopeful the resolution would pass.
“What we’re seeing is a conversation” on gays in scouting that activists have wanted for years, Wahls said. “That being said, we want full inclusion — ending the ban on gay youth and leaders.”
Ferraro, the GLAAD spokesman, said gay activists already planned to keep pushing the Boy Scouts for more inclusion after the vote.
“We’re not going to stop until Scouting is open to all,” Ferraro said.