Openly gay youths will be allowed to join scouting, a historic decision the Boy Scouts of America says will keep it unclouded by "a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue."
More than 60% of the group's 1,400-member national council voted Thursday at an annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas, for the change, which takes effect Jan. 1.
"No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," says the resolution.
The BSA, however, will maintain its ban on gay adult leaders.
"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting," the 103-year-old organization said in a statement after the vote.
The BSA said there are no plans for further review of the issue.
BSA President Wayne Perry said the vote came after "an extensive dialogue within the scouting family (that) was exhaustive and ... very respectful."
"No matter how you feel about this issue, kids are better off in scouting," Perry told reporters. "Our mission is to serve every kid."
Reaction from interest groups to Thursday's vote was swift.
The Human Rights Campaign said the BSA took a "historic step forward."
"Unfortunately, the new policy does not go far enough, leaving adult Eagle Scouts, scout leaders, and parents behind," the group said.
Scouts for Equality and GLAAD lauded the BSA's "commitment to creating a more inclusive organization."
Jennifer Tyrrell, an Ohio mother who was ousted as a den leader in April 2012 because she's lesbian, called Thursday's vote "incredible."
"They've never been raised to discriminate against anyone regardless of sex or color or anything, so they can't understand why people care so much," she said of her children. "... Definitely, one day, I hope they look back and think that we're part of something amazing."
Tyrrell, in an interview with CNN affiliate KTVT, said that the vote energized her for her next push -- to change Boy Scout policy so that gays and lesbian adults, like herself, can serve as leaders.
"When we used to exclude women from things, when we used to exclude black people from things, and that never has ever worked, but we continue to do it," she said. "I'm going to be around to make sure that that's not the case. We're definitely not going to go away."
Conservative groups and some religious organizations argued against making any change in the membership policy, saying it would dilute the Boy Scout message of morality and potentially destroy the organization.
John Stemberger, founder of OnMyHonor.net, which opposed the resolution, called the vote a "sad day for Scouting."
Stemberger claimed that Boy Scout officials didn't foster a "robust discussion," didn't provide "honest information" and "hid information from the delegates."
He claimed that scouting groups now have two options: to "segregate" gay scouts from heterosexual ones by putting them in separate tents, or "put homosexual boys with other boys and put them at risk."