THE BOY SCOUTS of America's decision yesterday to allow openly gay youths was met with mild applause by local gay-rights advocates, who described the move as a step in the right direction.

Sixty percent of the organization's 1,400-member national council voted to remove restrictions on membership based on sexual orientation alone. The change will take effect beginning next year, but does not apply to adult leaders.

"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," the organization said in a statement released after the vote. "As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter."

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy organization, said he was delighted by the decision, but disappointed it didn't include adult leaders.

"Certainly there's no scientific basis for excluding gay Scout leaders, but culturally, it's one step at a time with the Boy Scouts," Lazin said. "I think the more important aspect is it allows young gay scouts to live out of the shadows, not to be ashamed of who they are, and to be fully accepted as all other scouts."

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