Eds: Updates with comment from James Dale, the first man to sue the BSA over the gay ban. AP Video. With AP Photos.
GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — After lengthy and wrenching debate, local leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have voted to open their ranks to openly gay boys for the first time, but heated reactions from the left and right made clear that the BSA's controversies are far from over.
The Scouts' longstanding ban on gay adults remains in force, and many liberal Scout leaders — as well as gay-rights groups — plan to continue pressing for an end to that exclusion even though the BSA's top officials aren't ready for that step.
Meanwhile, many conservatives within the Scouts are distraught at the outcome of the vote and some are threatening to defect. A meeting is planned for next month to discuss the formation of a new organization for boys.
The vote was conducted by secret ballot Thursday during the National Council's annual meeting at conference center not far from Boy Scout headquarters in suburban Dallas. Of the roughly 1,400 voting members of the council who cast ballots, 61 percent supported the proposal drafted by the governing Executive Committee. The policy change takes effect Jan. 1.
"This has been a challenging chapter in our history," the BSA chief executive, Wayne Brock, said after the vote. "While people have differing opinions on this policy, kids are better off when they're in Scouting."
However, the outcome will not end the membership policy debate, as was evident in the reactions of leaders of some of the conservative religious denominations that sponsor Scout units.
"We are deeply saddened," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee. "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law."