The Boy Scouts of America have reaffirmed a ban on openly gay members and leaders after a secret review, citing the preferences of its conservative-leaning rank and file, the organisation revealed in a statement to US media.
Prominent members of the century-old organization -- which counts nearly four million adult and youth members -- have called on it to overturn the longtime ban and rights groups have stepped up protests in recent years.
However, the US Supreme Court approved of the ban in 2000 -- saying private groups have the right to decide their own membership criteria -- and scouting officials say the policy enjoys widespread support among members.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, the BSA said an 11-member committee representing "a diversity of perspectives and opinions" had unanimously recommended upholding the ban after carrying out a two-year review.
The organization declined to identify the members of the panel, but said it "included forthright and candid conversation and extensive research and evaluations -- both from within scouting and from outside of the organization."
BSA chief executive Bob Mazzuca said there was broad-based support for the policy, according to the Times statement.
"The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting," Mazzuca said.
"We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society."
But at least two members of the group's national executive board -- Ernst & Young Chief Executive James Turley and AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson -- recently indicated that they would try to change the policy.
Stephenson is due to become president of the board in two years.
The organization, founded in 1910, is best-known for promoting outdoor activities and community service for boys aged 7-21.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) criticized the move, pointing out that the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club and the US military allow openly gay members and calling on the Boy Scouts to follow suit.
"Until this ban is lifted, the Scouts are putting parents in a situation where they have to explain to their children why some scouts and hard-working scout leaders are being turned away simply because of who they are," GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said in a statement.