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By Pete Williams

A spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America says its national executive committee last Friday approved a resolution to lift the membership restriction regarding sexual orientation, while respecting the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.

The move follows the Boy Scouts of America National annual meeting in May in which Robert M. Gates, the organization's president and former secretary of defense and former director of central intelligence, encouraged the group to "to reflect on the challenges, primarily regarding adult leadership standards, facing the BSA and potential alternatives for addressing them," according to a statement.

If approved, the rule would mean that the Scouts would consider all qualified and eligible persons for hire, without regard to their sexual orientation, for all staff positions that require membership. The executive board will consider the rule for ratification at a meeting on July 27th.

The change would also offer Scouts and their families the opportunity to chose local units "charted to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families," the statement said.

The Scouts attribute the move to "the rapid changes in society and increasing legal challenges at the federal, state, and local levels".

The Boy Scouts has grappled with its controversial membership policy barring gays in recent years. In an historic ballot, its 1,400-member National Council previously voted to allow gay youth — but not adults — to join Scouting.