NEW YORK — Searching for compromise on a divisive issue, the Boy Scouts of America is proposing to partially lift its long-standing exclusion of gays — allowing them as youth members but continuing to bar them as adult leaders.
The proposal, unveiled Friday after weeks of private leadership deliberations, will be submitted to the roughly 1,400 voting members of the BSA's National Council during the week of May 20 at a meeting in Texas.
The key part of the resolution says no youth may be denied membership in the Scouts "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." A ban would continue on leadership roles for adults who are openly gay or lesbian.
Gay-rights groups, which had demanded a complete lifting of the ban, criticized the proposal as inadequate.
"Until every parent and young person have the same opportunity to serve, the Boy Scouts will continue to see a decline in both membership and donations," said Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay-rights watchdog group GLAAD.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the BSA was too timid.
"What message does this resolution send to the gay Eagle Scout who, as an adult, wants to continue a lifetime of Scouting by becoming a troop leader?" he asked.
Some conservative groups assailed the proposal from the opposite direction, saying the ban should be kept in its entirety.
"The policy is incoherent," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "The proposal says, in essence, that homosexuality is morally acceptable until a boy turns 18 — then, when he comes of age, he's removed from the Scouts."
Perkins predicted that the proposed change, if adopted, would subject the BSA to "crippling lawsuits" because it would no longer be able to argue that excluding gays was integral to its basic principles.
Indeed, the BSA has anticipated hostile reaction, estimating that easing the ban on gay adults might prompt between 100,000 and 350,000 members to leave the organization, which now has 2.6 million youth members.
In January, the BSA said it was considering a plan to give sponsors of local Scout units the option of admitting gays as both youth members and adult leaders or continuing to exclude them.
On Friday, the BSA said it changed course in part because of surveys sent out starting in February to about 1 million members of the Scouting community.
The review, said a BSA statement, "created an outpouring of feedback" from 200,000 respondents, some supporting the exclusion policy and others favoring a change.
"While perspectives and opinions vary significantly, parents, adults in the Scouting community and teens alike tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting," the statement said.
As a result, the BSA's Executive Committee drafted the compromise resolution.
"The proposed resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," the statement said.