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Reuters, Published January 28 2013

Boy Scouts of America discusses end to ban on gay members

DALLAS - Boy Scouts of America is discussing ending a longstanding ban on gay members and whether to allow local organizations to decide their own policy, a spokesman said on Monday.

Lifting the ban would mark a dramatic reversal for the 103-year-old organization, which only last summer reaffirmed its policy amid heavy criticism from gay rights groups and some parents of scouts.

"The BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation," spokesman Deron Smith said in an email to Reuters.

"The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue," the spokesman said.

The organization, which had more than 2.6 million youth members and more than 1 million adult members at the end of 2012, "would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents," Smith said.

The Boy Scouts won a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the organization to ban gays in 2000, but has come under increasing public pressure in recent years from activists including Zach Wahls, an Eagle scout with two lesbian mothers, and Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mother from Ohio who was ousted as a Scout den leader and treasurer.

"This is absolutely a step in the right direction," Wahls said on Monday, adding that if the national board approves the change, he would turn to persuading local councils to enact nondiscrimination policies.

Wahls is the founder of Scouts for Equality, which collected more than 1.2 million signatures opposing the anti-gay policy. His group's membership includes 3,151 other Eagle scouts.

"I think the Boy Scouts is obviously a positive move, but they've been discussing this for a while," said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national group supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.