DALLAS (AP) — Robert Gates became the Boy Scouts of America’s president facing deep divisions within the organization’s membership over whether to let gays serve openly in its ranks.
On Thursday, Gates finished his two-year term by arguing the Scouts had overcome that challenge and were ready to reverse years of membership declines.
In a speech to Scouting leaders, the former U.S. secretary of defense defended the compromise last year to allow openly gay adult leaders to serve in the Scouts, but give churches sponsoring troops the right to use sexual orientation as a guideline for selecting leaders.
Gates called the move a “difficult decision,” but one that has been accepted by “the overwhelming preponderance of sponsoring institutions and volunteer leaders,” according to prepared remarks released by the Scouts.
“Most importantly, through these challenges we have maintained our unity as a movement,” Gates said. “Significantly, membership in recent months has begun to move in a positive direction for the first time in many years.”
An Eagle Scout during his childhood in Kansas, Gates became Scouting president in 2014 after a long career in public service, including leading the Department of Defense under two presidents. He took over an organization facing steep membership declines and a split between its core membership – churches and religious groups, many of which opposed allowing gays – and corporate sponsors and local councils that wanted to see Scouting’s membership policies changed.
Read More: The Associated Press