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Days after the Boy Scouts of America lifted a blanket ban on gay leaders, a Utah group that pressed for the legalization of gay marriage in the state announced Tuesday that it will sponsor a Boy Scout troop.
Though Mark Lawrence with the group Restore Our Humanity said getting it approved and running may be an uphill battle in the conservative state where most troops are sponsored by the Mormon church, he said the new Utah troop could be a model for the future.
"I think it's important for us to do this now," Lawrence said at a news conference. Welcoming gay leaders could create new interest in the organization, he said. He has heard from several potential volunteers, including doctors, police officers and a rabbi, Lawrence said.
Organizers plan to complete an application in the coming weeks and are hoping to have a troop up and running by the fall.
While the lifting of the ban on July 27 prompted some gay Eagle Scouts around the country to rejoin the movement, the reaction was different at the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The nation's largest sponsor of Boy Scout units said it was deeply troubled by the decision that it said was inconsistent with the church's teachings and the traditional values of the Boy Scouts. The policy change allows church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons.
The Mormon church, which serves more than 427,000 boys in nearly 38,000 Scout units, is considering breaking away to form its own worldwide scouting organization. Officials have said they will meet later this month to discuss their next steps.
Several other denominations that collectively sponsor close to half of all Scout units have also been apprehensive about ending the ban on gay adults, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.
But other churches are looking forward to the change, said the Rev. Curtis Price with the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City. "I'm not going to sponsor an organization that's going to exclude any of our people based on sexual orientation," he said.
Being gay doesn't take away the ability to be a good mentor or teacher for young people, Price said, and the decision to allow gay leaders removes a strain on the relationship with the Boy Scouts for congregations like his.
Scouting is an important place for boys to learn outdoor skills, teamwork and leadership, Utah activist Charles Frost said. "I learned how to be a leader, largely due to scouting," Frost said.
Lawrence said that he was involved in Scouting when he was younger, but he left because he felt excluded. The new Salt Lake City-based troop would be welcoming to a wide range of people, especially those from minority groups, he said.
The Boy Scouts decided to allow openly gay youth in 2013, but not gay adults or leaders. That changed when the organization's National Executive Board voted to end the blanket ban, though leaders pledged to defend the right of any church-sponsored units to continue excluding gays as adult volunteers.
Advocate Peter Brownstein, who has worked for three years to establish a Scout troop that welcomes gay leaders, said he hopes the Mormon church stays with the Boy Scouts. "It would truly be a shame for them to head off in a different direction," he said.
Restore Our Humanity started to mount a challenge to Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, which was overturned in a surprise court ruling in December 2013.