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Boy Scouts survey scouting community on ban on gays

The statue of a scout stands in the entrance to Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Sharp
The statue of a scout stands in the entrance to Boy Scouts of America headquarters in Irving, Texas, February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Sharp

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America completed distribution on Wednesday of an unprecedented survey aimed at gauging how the scouting community feels about the group's long-standing ban on openly gay members, a spokesman said.

Following an initial round of surveys sent to 1.1 million scouts and their families, the organization on Wednesday sent an additional 325,000 questionnaires to alumni and former scouts, said BSA spokesman Deron Smith.

The results of the survey will be presented to about 1,400 members of the Boy Scout national council at an annual meeting in May. Council members will vote on whether to end the gay ban.

The Boy Scouts, one of America's largest youth organizations, is caught between growing pressure from two opposing forces in a heated debate over the gay ban.

On one side are some of the largest churches. More than 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by a faith-based organizations, and the majority of those churches believe homosexuality is inconsistent with the teachings of their faith.

On the other side are gay rights groups, major corporate sponsors like AT&T and Merck & Co, and President Barack Obama, who last month encouraged the youth group to end the gay ban.

"This is essentially corporate impact research," said Patrick Boyle, whose 1994 book "Scout's Honor" was among the first to examine sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts of America.

"The Boy Scouts are thinking about a change to their product that could profoundly change the perception of the brand, and they want to know what the consequences are going to be."

"No matter what the decision, they can now at least go to the church leaders on one side and the corporate sponsors (who oppose the gay ban) and say they asked and that this is what the folks on the ground, who are the real backbone of the organization, think," Boyle said.

(Additional reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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