By Marice Richter
GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) - Gay rights activists and members of conservative groups gathered in the Texas town of Grapevine on Wednesday where Boy Scouts of America delegates were expected to vote at a national meeting to lift its ban on gay youth membership.
More than 1,400 delegates are expected to pass a resolution on Thursday to lift the ban, according to Boy Scouts officials. The vote comes about three months after members of the executive board delayed a decision on loosening the ban.
The Boy Scouts' long-standing ban on gays has become a polarizing issue at the center of the debate on gay rights in the United States, which allows gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.
But while national polls show growing acceptance of gay rights, a Boy Scouts online survey of about 200,000 members, parents and leaders showed overwhelming support for maintaining the 103-year-old ban, by a margin of almost 2-1.
The Boy Scouts top leadership endorses the new policy and has encouraged delegates to support it through a webcast. BSA President Wayne Perry said: "It was never our intent to prevent young people from being part of this organization."
On Wednesday, gay rights leaders and conservative organizations held separate events near a hotel in Grapevine where delegates are meeting.
About 100 people, many wearing scouts uniforms, lined part of the route from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to the Gaylord Texan Resort to greet delegates with American flags and signs urging them to reject the resolution.
Admitting gays would create "safety and security issues" at overnight campouts and a potential plummet in sponsorship if churches pull out over differences in beliefs, said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer, Eagle Scout, former scoutmaster and founder of an online organization trying to stop the change.
About 70 percent of Boy Scouts troops in the United States are sponsored by faith-based organizations, according to Boy Scouts officials.
"The Boy Scouts have always stood for timeless values," he said. "Sex and politics have no place in the Boy Scouts."
Gay rights activists called for delegates to approve the policy change and vowed to continue their efforts until the Boy Scouts lifts its ban on gay adult leaders as well.
"There is nothing Scout-like about exclusion of other people, and there is nothing Scout-like about putting your own religious beliefs before someone else's," said Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbians and founder of Scouts for Equality.
Gay rights advocates gathered petitions with more than 1.8 million signatures supporting an end to the ban. Supporters of the current policy gathered petitions with about 250,000 signatures.
"No families who look like mine and Zach's should ever be told that they are not good enough because of who they are," said Jennifer Tyrrell, a former Cub Scout pack leader who was ousted because she is a lesbian.
"The Boy Scouts of America is better than this," she said.
(Editing by David Bailey and Philip Barbara)
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