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Boy Scouts set to vote on lifting gay youth ban

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Thursday’s vote on whether to lift the ban on gay youths in the Boy Scouts of America could symbolize a cultural shift.

Texas businessman Barry Price was so disturbed by the prospect that he joined a protest Wednesday, picking up a sign to urge Scout leaders to retain the ban.

“The things that shaped this country — the morals, the foundation of who we are — are being shaken and broken apart,” said Price, 68, of Grapevine, an Army veteran and former Boy Scout who said the vote troubled him as much as the U.S. military lifting its ban on gays serving openly two years ago.

Although the proposal would end the ban on gay youths, gay Scout leaders would still be barred. Scouting’s 1,400-member national council will vote by secret ballot, with a simple majority required for passage. Officials are expected to announce the results at a briefing here late Thursday. If it passes, the new policy would take effect Jan. 1, a Scouts spokesman said.

In that case, Price said, “the Boy Scouts will be devastated. It will decimate their finances and membership.”

Supporters agree that passage would signal a shift in philosophy — but they say it’s long overdue.

“This work really symbolizes where we are as a country,” said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the New York-based gay advocacy group GLAAD, noting that as gays have gained greater acceptance nationwide, banning them from Scouting “is not just anti-gay, it’s anti-American.”

Boy Scout leaders acknowledged this week that the vote is about more than just their group.

“Somehow, Scouting has become one of the focal points in the debate on homosexuality,” Boy Scouts President Wayne Perry wrote in an opinion piece this week in USA Today. He supports the new policy as “the right decision for Boy Scouts” that “would provide kids a place to belong while they learn and grow.”

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.

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