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Washington - Pressured by advocates on both sides, the Boy Scouts of America is delaying until May a vote on whether to change its policy banning gay troops and leaders, the organization announced Wednesday.
The group said last month that it would reach a decision about the ban after a three-day meeting of the national executive board this week, but determined that the debate needed more time to play out. The delay comes just seven months after the Scouts reaffirmed its position on banning gay members last summer.
"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," the Boy Scouts said in a statement.
The decision to wait until this spring, when the 1,400 members of the national council will vote on the issue, was met with applause from some supporters of the ban and disappointment from opponents.
Both sides have flooded the Boy Scouts with phone calls, emails and more after the announcement last week that the policy was under consideration.
Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the board's decision was a "triumph of the grass roots," who he said have been putting the board "under siege" since the news broke that the ban may be lifted.
Land said top Boy Scout leaders made trips in recent weeks to visited leaders of the faith groups most represented in the Scouts - Catholics, Mormons and Southern Baptists - and most opposed lifting the ban, or offering a "local option," in which troop leaders could decide for themselves what to do.
J.P. Duffy, the vice president of communications for the Family Research Council, said his group sent an alert to supporters asking them to call the Boy Scouts and voice their opinion. Duffy said it had appeared the decision to lift the ban was a done deal, but that "it's very clear that the outpouring from parents and from the public is what turned the tide."
On the other side, Zach Wahls, 21, an Eagle Scout and founder of the group Scouts for Equality, said members of his organization also "flooded" call-in lines to express their opinions on the issue.
"We've been working for the last seven months to make our opinion heard, and we're pretty sure they know where we stand," Wahls said. "And while we were disappointed in today's vote, this was the first time in the last 35 years that the Boy Scouts of America has not affirmed their ban on gay members."
President Barack Obama also weighed in, saying in his pre-Super Bowl interview Sunday that the ban should be removed.
According to a poll released today by Quinnipiac University, the majority of Americans are in favor of lifting the ban on gays in the Scouts.