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The president of the Boy Scouts of America on Thursday urged the organization to drop its ban on gay adults, saying the outdated policy would eventually crumble under the weight of social, political and legal forces.

Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense, said in a speech to the Scouts’ national meeting that he wasn’t specifically asking the national board to immediately overturn the ban. But Gates recommended the Scouts get ahead of it so the organization doesn’t get thrown into disarray by a court ruling.

“We can act on our own or we can be forced to act,” Gates said, according to a copy of his remarks. “But either way, I suspect we don't have a lot of time.”

Gates, an Eagle Scout who became the organization’s president a year ago, said when he took office that he supported inclusion of gay adults but didn’t want to re-open the issue. A year earlier, the Scouts had voted to allow gay youth — but not adults.

Now, Gates is pressing the issue anew.

"The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," he said Thursday.

In his remarks, Gates cited a variety of factors behind his proposal — growing challenges to the ban from within the organization, including open defiance by local chapters in places including New York and Denver; a wave of state laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation; and judicial decisions in favor of gay rights.

Revoking the charters of local councils that challenge the ban would be detrimental to the boys whose lives stand to benefit from the Scouts, Gates said.

With Gates’ urging, the Scouts’ executive committee, its national executive board and its lawyers will start working on a strategy to rescind the ban.

“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” Gates said. “The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained.”

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Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates listens during a forum discussion at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on October 22, 2013 in Washington. Former US government officials and academics joined to speak about the current meaning of national security.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images file