After years of resisting calls for it to drop its opposition to gay members and troop leaders, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) may finally — slowly — be changing its tune.
The organization said Monday it was considering dropping its national policy on sexual orientation and leaving some of the decisionmaking to local troops, sponsors and families.
“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 Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents,” said BSA spokesman Deron Smith in a statement to TIME. “Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”
The group’s long-standing ban on gay membership, while it has faced several legal challenges, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2000 case. But the Scouts have come under mounting pressure on the issue in recent months. In October, Ryan Andresen, a then 17-year-old scout who had completed all the qualifications for earning his Eagle badge, learned from his troop leader that he could not be awarded the merit because he was gay. At the time, the Scouts released a statement saying that Andresen “did not meet the organization’s standard on sexual orientation” and was told he was no longer eligible for membership, prompting widespread condemnation. Earlier this month, after Andresen’s mother posted a Change.org petition in his support that got more than 468,000 signatures, local Boy Scout leaders approved his Eagle ranking, despite the judgment of the national organization.
Smith said the decision is likely to be discussed next week at the organization’s national executive board meeting, which will be closed to the public. If the ban is dropped, it would eliminate any national policy on sexual orientation within the Boy Scouts of America.