GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The Boy Scouts of America voted on Thursday to end its controversial policy banning gay kids and teens from joining one of the nation's most popular youth organizations, ditching membership guidelines that had roiled the group in recent years.
Over 60 percent of the The National Council of 1,400 delegates from Scouting across the country voted to lift the ban, BSA officials said.
The outcome of the historic ballot is not going to end the debate: Some opponents on the right said they would pull their sponsorships of packs and troops, and parents threatened to take their boys out of Scouting; LGBT activists said the policy change doesn't go far enough because gay adults still wouldn't be allowed to participate.
"This is the first step in beginning the process to evolution and we all know what evolution leads to," he said. "We look forward to Scouting to go all the way."
The ban on gay Scouts has been the subject of much soul-searching in the century-old organization – from local troops and councils to online petitions to national board meetings. The dispute was even heard by the Supreme Court, which said 13 years ago that as a private membership organization the BSA was free to decide who it would admit.
More than 70 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by religious groups, and this compromise proposal has split them. One of the Southern Baptist Church leaders, Dr. Frank Page, last week implored the Boy Scouts not to change the policy. But The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – the BSA's biggest charter partner – had given tacit endorsement to the plan.
Perhaps one of the most important voices, BSA President Wayne Perry, on Wednesday wrote an op-ed in USA TODAY supporting the inclusion of gay boys.
"The BSA's executive committee unanimously presented this resolution because it stays true to Scouting's mission and remains focused on kids," Perry wrote. "No matter what your opinion is on this issue, America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation's children."
The stakes are huge for the BSA, which boasts nearly 3 million youth participants. The new membership guidelines could drive some, perhaps many, to leave.
Rusty Tisdale, assistant Scoutmaster for a troop in Ellisville, Miss., hopes there is a local option that would allow the decision on gay members to be made at the troop level. Otherwise, he will pull his kids.
"I'm not happy as a parent," Tisdale emailed to NBC News. "The gay activist isn't happy and will not be until homosexuals can be leaders, etc. So there will be more pressure, and more fighting, And more acquiescence. No thanks."
"There are other activities for my kids to do," he added. "There are other organizations that I can support with my time and money."