By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - A decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow gay leaders was met with indignation by the largest U.S. Protestant group on Tuesday along with criticism from a leading gay rights group that the move did not go far enough.
About 70 percent of the roughly 100,000 U.S. Boy Scout units are sponsored by religious institutions, and many said the Monday decision runs counter to the moral standards set by the 105-year-old youth organization.
"We express consummate sadness that this once vibrant organization continues to cave to social pressure, compromising its long-held, constitutionally protected tenets," said Roger “Sing” Oldham, a spokesman for the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention.
Even though the decision permits religious organizations to exclude gay adults in keeping with their beliefs, other major conservative church groups also criticized the change, which took effect with the vote Monday by the National Executive Board.
The largest sponsor of Boy Scout units, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has said it was "deeply troubled" by the move, adding the Mormons' "century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined."
The Catholic Church, another leading sponsor of troops, on Tuesday said in a statement it was concerned with the “practical implications” of allowing gay leaders but remains committed to its relationship with the Irving, Texas-based Scouts.
The policy, backed by 79 percent of board members, removes a prohibition on gay adult leaders, but allows religious groups to bar them.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, called for the Scouts to drop the opt-out religious exemption and become fully non-discriminatory.
"Including an exemption for troops sponsored by religious organizations undermines and diminishes the historic nature of (the) decision,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
The Boy Scouts' president, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, called for the change in May, saying continuation of the blanket ban on gay Scout leaders was "unsustainable".
Gates helped end the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that barred openly gay individuals from serving.
Earlier, corporate sponsors such as Lockheed Martin and Intel dropped funding for the organization to protest policies considered discriminatory.
Membership in the Boy Scouts has been steadily declining over the past decade, but the 2013 decision to allow gay youth contributed to a steeper drop of 7.4 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to organization figures.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Walsh)