IRVING, Texas — Caught in an ideological crossfire, the Boy Scouts of America is retreating until May from a decision about whether to ease its policy of excluding gays. Whatever the organization eventually does, it’s decision may anger major constituencies and worsen schisms within Scouting.
The delay, which the Scouts attributed to ‘‘the complexity of this issue,’’ was announced Wednesday after closed-door deliberations by the organization’s national executive board. Under consideration was a proposal to ease the longstanding ban on gays by allowing sponsors of local troops to decide for themselves on the membership of gay Scouts and adult leaders.
As the board met over three days at a hotel near Dallas, it became clear that the proposal would be unacceptable to large numbers of impassioned Scouting families and advocacy groups on both the left and right.
The iconic youth organization is now deeply entangled in the broader cultural and political conflicts over such issues as same-sex marriage and religious freedom. Tilting toward either side will probably alienate the other, and a midway balancing act will be difficult.
Gay-rights supporters contend that no Scout units anywhere should exclude gays, and vowed to maintain pressure on the organization’s corporate donors to achieve that goal. Some conservatives, including religious leaders whose churches sponsor troops, warned of mass defections if the ban were even partially eased. They urged supporters to flood headquarters with phone calls.
‘‘In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public,’’ said the organization’s national spokesman, Deron Smith. ‘‘It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization.’’
The Boy Scouts of America ‘‘needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy,’’ Smith added. He said the board would prepare a resolution to be voted on by the 1,400 voting members of the organization’s national council at a meeting during the week of May 20 in Grapevine, Texas.
The organization had announced last week that it was considering allowing Scout troops to decide whether to allow gay membership, ensuring that the executive board meeting would be in the national spotlight.
Learning that a decision would be deferred, gay-rights leaders assailed the organization.
‘‘Every day that the Boy Scouts of America delay action is another day that discrimination prevails,’’ said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. ‘‘Young Americans, gay and straight, are hurt by the inaction associated with today’s news.’’
‘‘A Scout is supposed to be brave, and the Boy Scouts failed to be brave today,’’ said Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother ousted as a den leader of her son’s Cub Scout pack because she is lesbian.
‘‘They failed us yet again,’’ she said. ‘‘Putting this off until May only ensures other gay kids and gay parents are discarded.’’
Tyrrell was among several current and former Scouts and supporters who rallied outside the organization’s national headquarters Monday and delivered petitions opposing the policy.
Conservative leaders made clear they would keep pressure on the organization ahead of the May meeting.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said his group would continue warning the Boy Scouts ‘‘about the grave consequences that would result if they were to compromise their moral standards in the face of threats from corporate elites and homosexual activists.’’
About 70 percent of all Scout units are sponsored by religious denominations, including many by conservative faiths that have supported the ban, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Mormon church.
The delay was welcomed by Southern Baptist leaders, some of whom had said they would urge their churches to seek alternatives to the Boy Scouts if the ban were eliminated.
Michael Purdy, a spokesman at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters in Utah, said the Boy Scouts ‘‘acted wisely in delaying its decision until all voices can be heard on this important moral issue.’’
The extra time will give local Scout leaders in Utah and elsewhere time to determine how their members feel about the proposal, said Kay Godfrey, a spokesman for Boy Scouts in the Great Salt Lake Council. The heavily Mormon council is one of the largest in the country, with 5,500 troops.