Gays hoping to join the Boy Scouts will have to wait until at least May after the organization's executive board put off a vote on lifting its outright ban on openly homosexual scouts and troop leaders.
The board had been expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal to let local groups set their own policies, but said instead that it needs more time to get comment on the issue from its members.
"After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy," the board said in a written statement.
The decision will now be made at the organization's annual meeting in May. About 1,400 members of the group's national council will take part during that gathering, the board said.
In the meantime, the organization will "further engage representatives of Scouting's membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns."
The decision disappointed critics who had hoped to see the organization end its ban despite a 2000 Supreme Court ruling saying it had the right to keep it.
"Every day that the Boy Scouts of America delay action is another day that discrimination prevails," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "Now is the time for action. Young Americans, gay and straight, are hurt by the inaction associated with today's news. The BSA leadership should end this awful policy once and for all, and open the proud tradition of Scouting to all."
Others hope the delay will provide time to lobby the Boy Scouts to scrap the plan.
"This issue is not a gay rights issue," said Utah scout leader Eric Montague. "It's a gender attraction issue and it's also a politics issue. As a local scout leader, I don't need to worry about gay rights -- that shouldn't be my role; that shouldn't be what I do. And to push that decision upon me is not the best way to go."
Conservative groups and some religious organizations have argued against making any change, saying it would dilute the Boy Scout message of morality and potentially destroy the organization.
The Boy Scouts announced last month that the organization would consider changing the policy, a sharp reversal of its previous support for excluding openly gay members and scout leaders.
The new policy would allow local leaders to decide "consistent with each organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs" whether to open troops they sponsor to openly gay people, the group said in a statement at the time.
The proposal comes more than a decade after a Supreme Court ruling that found the organization has the right to keep gays out, but also amid declining participation in the venerable American institution.
Membership in Boy Scouts has declined by about a third since 1999. About 2.7 million people now participate in scouting nationwide, with more than 70% of troops affiliated with a church or religious groups.
The organization has also endured frequent criticism from gay rights groups and other critics who say the Boy Scouts should not endorse discrimination.
Among more recent controversies, the organization came under fire last year after Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio den leader, was dismissed by her local Boy Scout officials for being a lesbian.
On Tuesday, Tyrell delivered a petition she said was signed by 1.4 million people supporting the change.
Before Wednesday's announcement of the delay, she said she was looking forward to the change, but added it would not go far enough.
"If this ban is lifted, it's a great first step," she said Wednesday on CNN's "Starting Point." "But it's still going to lead to kids being rejected. Families are still going to be turned away."
Brandy Pryde, a troop leader who participated in a prayer vigil outside the Boy Scouts headquarters Wednesday, said her church would pull support from scouting if the change goes through.