The Boy Scouts of America, under growing pressure from troops across the country to end its 100-year-old ban on gay leaders and members, said today it is "discussing" ending its national discrimination policy, leaving such decisions to the discretion of individual troops.
"Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation," BSA spokesman Deron Smith said in a prepared statement. "This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles, or religious beliefs."
Individual members and parents would be able to set policy guidelines as they see fit when organizing their troops and leadership, according to the statement.
The BSA will review the matter at its regularly scheduled board meeting next week, Smith said.
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay advocacy group GLAAD, pointed to two factors upon hearing the announcement today.
"I think it was a mix of the change.org petitions and the corporate sponsors that had dropped out," Ferraro said.
Last September, the Intel Foundation announced it would end $700,000 in annual donations to the Boys Scouts. The Merck Foundation also severed its ties in December.
"UPS adopted a new policy that stated that grantees had to follow their nondiscrimination policy," Ferraro said. "There were also more in the coming weeks that were dropping their support of Scouts."
Several U.S. councils have tried to buck the longtime ban, putting the issue to a vote with their local parents in recent months, including a Boy Scout troop in California and a Cub troop in Maryland.
"I am extraordinarily excited," said Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, who has spent the past seven months heading up Scouts for Equality, which advocates for ending the ban. "It's a positive step, and big change.
"This is absolutely a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go," Wahls, 21, said today. "Discrimination has no place in scouting."
Wahls, whose parents are lesbians, was a YouTube sensation two years ago when he testified before the Iowa legislature on same-sex marriage.
He delivered a petition in June from change.org with more than 1 million signatures, demanding that the Boy Scouts end the ban on openly gay membership.
"Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout," Wahls said at the time. "I am unwilling to quit because of a single policy. They do so many things right."
The policy change under discussion would allow individual groups -- religious, civic or educational ones -- to determine their own rules.
"The national organization has to make it clear to all units that being anti-gay is unacceptable," said Wahls, who identifies as straight. "What happens next is little unclear, but it seems the Boy Scouts of America is starting to thaw on this issue."
BSA's Smith said, "The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. 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."
In October, California Boy Scout Ryan Andresen of Moraga, Calif., was denied the coveted Eagle Scout award, even though he had completed all the requirements because he is gay.
His mom, Karen Andresen, was so upset by the troop's decision that she posted a petition on change.org.
A local troop committee approved his award, but the council did not send it on to the national organization because of the gay ban.
Advocacy groups have been vocal on the issue.
"The Boy Scouts of America have heard from scouts, corporations and millions of Americans that discriminating against gay scouts and scout leaders is wrong," GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said. "Scouting is a valuable institution and this change will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect."
Until now, the Boy Scouts have stood firm on the issue, even taking it to the highest court.