Philadelphia's Boy Scouts of America chapter has proposed changing the organization's national policy to give local units autonomy in deciding whether to allow gay people to serve as scout leaders.
"This amendment was designed to better accommodate the full diversity of the local community," read a statement released Thursday by the Cradle of Liberty Council, which represents 17,000 scouts in Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties.
The proposal comes in advance of the national Boy Scouts' expected vote May 23 that could change the current ban on gay members and leaders.
The Boy Scouts has long excluded gays and atheists. The policy banning atheists is not under review.
The national office in January announced that it was considering admitting gay scouts and scout leaders while leaving the ultimate decision to local units. The national board encouraged its local councils to consult their members on the issue.
The recommendation by the Cradle of Liberty's executive board followed a "listening phase of feedback from its local members and heads of major religious and community organizations," the release stated.
The council polled more than 10,000 members and held sessions to discuss the issue. The recommendation will be submitted to the Northeast Region of the Boy Scouts.
The new membership policy proposed by the Cradle of Liberty reads:
"The Boy Scouts of America does not discriminate against any person based on sexual orientation. Because a Scout is Reverent and is therefore duty-bound to respect the religious beliefs of all persons, nothing in this policy shall prevent or prohibit a chartered organization which is, or is directly affiliated with, a religious institution from applying its own religious beliefs when determining who may become a leader of a unit sponsored by such chartered organization."
The national council has been receiving a range of responses from its locals.
In March, the San Francisco Bay Area Boy Scouts Council denounced the gay ban and approved a similar amendment. The Great Salt Lake Council, which represents four counties in Utah and is one of the largest Boy Scout councils in the United States, wants to maintain the status quo, at least until the issue is reviewed further.
The Boy Scouts' antigay policy has had repercussions here, where the city and scouts are fighting in court.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 to uphold the organization's right to exclude gays, Boy Scout troops lost sponsorships by public schools and other entities that adhered to nondiscrimination policies, and the charitable foundations run by several large corporations ended their donations.
The Cradle of Liberty Council sued the city in 2008 after the city threatened to evict the scouts from the landmark city-owned building off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that the group has occupied since 1928.
The city maintained that an organization discriminating against any group could not receive municipal benefits. Cradle of Liberty had a nondiscrimination policy, but the Boy Scouts threatened to dissolve the council if it allowed "avowed homosexuals."
In 2010, the suit went to trial. The jury sided with Cradle of Liberty and required the city to pay $877,000 of the council's legal fees, an amount that has since risen to more than $1 million. The city proposed selling the building to the council for $500,000, about half its assessed value, as payment for bills, but that deal fell through and the city is appealing.