WASHINGTON (AFP) - The head of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) on Thursday said it is time to end the organisation's ban on gay adult scout leaders, a policy he said "cannot be sustained".
Robert Gates, national president of the BSA, warned that the courts could force the organisation to change its membership policies if it did not do so on its own.
"The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained," Gates said the group's annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Boy Scouts has been beset by internal bickering and legal wrangling over the issue of allowing gay scoutmasters, amid defiant moves by scout councils in New York, Denver and elsewhere to flout the ban.
Gates is a former US defence secretary and past head of the Central Intelligence Agency who attained the pinnacle of scouting himself as a youth by earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
He cited "social, political and juridical changes taking place in our country, changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated."
With "dozens of states... passing laws that protect employment rights on the basis of sexual orientation... the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position - a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility that courts will simply order us at some time to change our membership policy," Gates said.
"We must all understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later," he said, adding, however, that he was not asking the national board to immediately change its policy during the current gathering.
The BSA in January 2014 officially began accepting gay youths into their ranks, after a more than two-decade-long ban against homosexual scouts.
A few months earlier, in May 2013, the Boy Scouts' national council voted to no longer deny membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation, but it retained its ban on gay and lesbian adult Scout leaders.