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From left: Deanna Monda, Ray Daugherty, and Marie Daugherty pose for a picture in the McKeldin Recreation Area in Marriottsville. On July 27, 2015, Boy Scouts of America voted to end its previous ban on openly-gay scout leaders.
From left: Deanna Monda, Ray Daugherty, and Marie Daugherty pose for a picture in the McKeldin Recreation Area in Marriottsville. On July 27, 2015, Boy Scouts of America voted to end its previous ban on openly-gay scout leaders. (Tom Brenner / Baltimore Sun)

The Boy Scouts of America lifted its blanket ban on gay leaders and employees on Monday, saying it was time for change, given rapidly shifting societal views and legal challenges.

Under the new policy approved by the organization's national executive board, church-sponsored chapters will still be allowed to exclude openly gay volunteer leaders if they choose. The change is effective immediately.

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The shift comes two years after the Boy Scouts decided to end a ban on gay youth members, another high-profile decision that sparked much debate within the 105-year-old organization.

The leader of the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts, which represents 626 Scout packs, troops and crews in Central Maryland, welcomed the decision.

"We join in agreement with the BSA's adult leadership standards," Brian Steger, Scout executive and CEO of the Baltimore council, said in a statement.

Boy Scouts of America President Robert M. Gates — the former defense secretary — set the stage for Monday's decision at the organization's national meeting in May. Gates said the ban had caused "internal challenges and potential legal conflicts" that left the Scouts in an unsustainable position.

The organization had faced the threat of lititgation in New York and other states. Its executive board voted 45-12 Monday to lift the ban.

"For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us," Gates said after the vote. "Now it's time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members."

Some religious denominations that sponsor Scouting groups, including the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, resisted changing the policy.

In the Baltimore region, about 70 percent of units are affiliated with religious institutions, according to Scouting officials.

"This change … enables Scouting's members and parents to choose local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families," Steger said.

Marie Daugherty welcomed the news. The Eldersburg woman and her wife, Deanna Monda, have watched their son, 12-year-old Ray Daugherty, excel in Scouting since he joined Cub Scouts in first grade.

Ray was honored by the Orioles in May for selling more popcorn than any other Boy Scout in the Baltimore region — raising more than $15,000 for the Scouts. He was invited to throw out the first pitch at a game.

As a parent, Daugherty said, she appreciates the Boy Scouts' emphasis on values such as honesty and service to others.

"He is a very empathetic kind of kid and very in tune with others," she said. "He tries to live up to the Scout oath and the Scout law."

Daugherty and Monda were both den leaders when Ray was a Cub Scout, and Daugherty later served as an assistant scoutmaster. She said local Boy Scout officials did not ask about the couple's sexuality when they applied to be den leaders, and other families did not raise it.

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While they were not banned, she hopes the policy change will help others feel more welcome.

"I was very happy to see when they did it for the boys a while back and even happier now," she said. "It's good that they're becoming more open to different sorts of lifestyles."

Keith Wawrzyniak said he was not surprised by the change — but the Middle River man took it as further evidence that the Boy Scouts' values no longer align with his own. A former Boy Scout and leader, he now volunteers for Trail Life USA, a "Christ-centered, Christian-owned and -operated organization" for boys and young men ages 5 to 24.

"I decided personally to leave the Boy Scouts because I felt they left me," Wawrzyniak said. "The organization was taking a direction that I, as a Christian, didn't feel comfortable with."

Trail Life USA formed after the Scouts' 2013 decision. It has two troops in Maryland, in Perry Hall and in Grantsville in Western Maryland.

Steve Gevarter, former chairman for the Arrowhead District of the Scouts in western Baltimore County, said he understands critics' concerns about the change, but is pleased because it will allow qualified gay people to volunteer.

"There's a lot of really quality people out there," said Gevarter, whose term ended in May. "I'm really happy. The more people involved, the better."

About 2.4 million boys and 1 million adults belong to the Boy Scouts. Like other youth organizations, it has seen membership decline in recent decades.

Some local Boy Scout leaders say sexuality has not been an issue in their communities.

"Sexuality isn't a principal discussion at most Boy Scout district events," said Randy Baldwin, chairman for the Carroll District. "The vast number of Scouts don't discuss or think about sexuality when they're doing Boy Scout stuff."

David Marks, a Baltimore County Council member and chairman of the Scouts' Dulaney District, concurred.

"Most of the parents I've talked to accept that this is the direction that the national's council going," he said.

Some on Monday said the new policy does not go far enough because it allows religious groups to continue to ban gay leaders.

"Today's vote by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual adults to work and volunteer is a welcome step toward erasing a stain on this important organization," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

"But including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of today's decision," Griffin said. "Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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