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Mormon church to review new Boy Scouts proposal

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Mormon church leaders plan to carefully review the Boy Scouts of America's new proposal on the organization's longstanding ban on gays before it takes a position.

The Scouts on Friday announced a proposal to lift the gay ban for youth members but continue to exclude gays as adult leaders.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Michael Purdy said the church is looking closely at the proposal's language and studying its implications. He notes that the church still has time, since the Scouts plan to submit the proposal to its National Council at a meeting in Texas the week of May 20.

The Mormon church has more Scouting troops than any other religious denomination so there is widespread interest about what it will say about the proposal.

Nationally, the Mormon church has 37,000 troops and 420,000 youth members, show figures from the Boy Scouts of America. In the Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council - one of the largest in the country with 5,500 troops and 73,400 youth - 99 percent of the troops are sponsored by the Mormon church.

The LDS church still teaches its members that marriage is between a man and a woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful. In December, however, the LDS church launched a website encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality.

In making its announcement, Boy Scouts of America estimated that easing the ban on gay adults could cause widespread defections that cost the organization 100,000 to 350,000 members.

Utah likely was included in that estimate.

Four out of five Scout leaders and parents in the Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council said they are opposed to lifting the ban on gays, according to results of a survey completed by 4,700 adults. Nearly half said they would quit the Boy Scouts if the ban on gays is lifted.

"The folks here understand that really what is going on here is a battle for core values," said Rick Barnes, executive of the Boy Scouts' Great Salt Lake Council, in March after the survey's release. "Are we who we say we are - an organization that instills family values? Or, are we just an outdoor program not based on those values?"

Barnes said Friday the council's executive board will meet to discuss the proposal before giving any opinion on it.

Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, called the proposal imperfect, but an important step in the right direction.

"I'm really happy that they are considering allowing the young people to participate- that sends an important message to the kids that are in Scouting now that identify as gay," Larabee said.

But Larabee said it's problematic that those same gay youth would not be allowed to continue in Scouting once they become adults. That perpetuates the stigma attached with being gay and creates a mixed message, she said.

The Utah Pride Center, an advocacy and service group for gays and lesbians, recently asked permission to start a troop for 10 middle-school aged children with straight troop leaders. But, the application was rejected by the Boy Scouts of America, which told them their mission didn't properly align with the Boy Scouts' goals.

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