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US lifts ban on gay scouts

US Scouts moved by the vote.

US Scouts moved by the vote.

DALLAS — The Boy Scouts of America voted yesterday to lift a century-old ban on openly gay scouts in a major victory for gay rights activists, but the decision means a sea of change for an organisation that depends heavily on faith-based groups.

More than 60 per cent of the group’s National Council, comprised of some 1,400 delegates, voted in favour of ending the ban, effective January 1, 2014, the group said in a statement. A prohibition on openly gay adult leaders remains in place.

The decision followed weeks of intense lobbying by gay rights activists and members of conservative organizations, many of them church groups that have traditionally formed the backbone of one of the nation’s largest youth organisations.

“I’m a happy camper,” said Mike Harrison, 71, a former chairman of California’s Orange County Boy Scout Council who voted to end the ban at a meeting of the National Council in Grapevine, Texas.

“The process was a very civil debate… There wasn’t any uncivilised behavior. People stated their case, passionately and from many different angles,” he said, adding that by yesterday it had become clear that “the younger generation of scouting just don’t see it the way the old guard did”.

The Boy Scouts’ long-standing ban on gay scouts had become a polarising issue at the centre of the debate on gay rights in the United States, where gay soldiers may now serve openly in the military and where gay couples can wed in a number of states.

For months, the Boy Scouts have been caught between two sides in an emotionally charged debate that has seen both supporters and opponents of lifting the ban threaten to withdraw support.

The Boy Scouts has faced heavy pressure on one side from gay rights supporters and some of the major corporate sponsors who provide much of the group’s annual funding, and on the other by a variety of major national church groups, who sponsor and support the large majority of troops nationwide. (Reuters)

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