The Boy Scouts of America today voted to lift its longtime national ban on admitting openly gay Scouts but will continue to exclude openly gay adults from leadership roles.
The vote by its 1,400 national membership came as no surprise to gay rights advocates, who hailed it as a first step to ending discriminatory practices in the 103-year-old organization.
The Boy Scouts said that it had completed its "most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting's history" on the issue and will change its policy Jan. 1, 2014.
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue," it said in a statement.
"While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting," it said. "Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America's youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve."
President of the Boy Scouts of America Wayne Perry, in a press conference following the vote, said, "This is a very difficult decision for a lot of people, but we're moving forward together. ... Our vision is to serve every kid."
Jennifer Tyrrell, who was ousted as den mother of her 8-year-old son Cruz's Ohio troop because she is a lesbian, told ABC's Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA, "This is what we've been working for. It's a small step in the right direction, but it's huge in another way. We've been working so hard for 13 months to bring this ... at least where it is."
But the ruling, decided by secret ballot at a national convention in Dallas, still excludes mothers like Tyrrell. Still, she applauds what she considers a "temporary" policy.
"I am encouraged, because we definitely are in it for the long haul," Tyrrell, a 33-year-old mother of four told ABCNews.com. "Once the ban is lifted on youth, they will see their fears are unfounded. There are going to be [gay] boys who want to continue as leaders. It's just a matter of time."
She said she would continue to fight for other gay families who wanted to be part of the Scouts.
But others, such as former former Eagle Scout James Dale, who brought the lawsuit against the Boy Scouts that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000, said the partial lifting of the ban makes the organization "less relevant."
"They are continuing to discriminate against people," said Dale. "They say let's get back to Scouting and move away from sexuality, but ... the issue won't go away. There can be no compromise for ending discrimination."
In 1991, he was fired as an assistant Scoutmaster of a New Jersey troop when he came out of the closet in college. He lost the Supreme Court case by one vote.
Growing up, Dale said he found the Boy Scouts to be "one of the organizations that were the most welcoming and accepting."
But today, he sees it as an "anti-gay organization" that is out of step with a culture that is rapidly accepting same-sex families.
"You can have gay Scouts, [but] you can't have gay Scout leaders or anyone over the age of 18," said Dale, who's now 42 and works in advertising in New York City.
"It's still a damning and destructive message that they're going to send to young people. "They will go from celebrated Eagle Scout when they're 17 years old to basically not being welcome anymore once the clock strikes 12 and they're 18 years old."
"It's kind of fascinating that the Boy Scouts of America are still so stuck," he said. "They're willing to destroy the organization. Over some ... small-minded values."
About 70 percent of all local troops are supported by religious groups, according to the Boy Scouts.
One such group, the Assemblies of God leadership, said in a prepared statement that it "regrets" the decision. "We believe, as do a majority of Boy Scout volunteer leaders and parents, that this is not the best policy for BSA, nor for the young men it serves."
But in recent months, some churches have backed away from their opposition, according to the gay advocacy group GLAAD.
The Mormon church, which sponsors most of the troops, has now endorsed allowing gay Scouts. The Roman Catholic Church has taken no official position. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church all urged full repeal of the ban.
But many other Christian groups stood firm in protest, citing religious freedom and the previous Supreme Court decision.
Nearly 19,000 past or current members of the Scouts signed a petition from Alliance Defending Freedom, which was delivered to the Boy Scouts this week, urging it to keep the ban.