A substantial majority of Americans support a proposal by the Boy Scouts of America to admit openly gay members for the first time, and most oppose the organization's plan to continue to bar openly gay adults from serving as Scout leaders, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The century-old group's National Council will gather this month to vote on the plan, unveiled last month, which would allow openly gay boys to be Scouts but would maintain a ban on gay Scout masters. In splitting the decision, the group may be trying to modernize while continuing to respect a diversity of views on homosexuality: Seven in 10 Scout groups are chartered by religious institutions.
In the new poll, 63 percent of Americans support allowing gay boys to join the Scouts, and 56 percent oppose continuing to ban gay adults from Boy Scout leadership, compared with 39 percent who support that part of the plan.
The results contrast with those of a USA Today/Gallup poll last year, in which only 42 percent of respondents said openly gay adults should be able to serve as Scout leaders.
Opposition to banning gay Scout leaders appears to vary by religious group and to follow well-worn political fault lines.
In the Post-ABC poll, 56 percent of Catholics oppose the continued ban on gay Scout masters. The number in opposition rises to 75 percent among people who identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular.
By contrast, Protestants are closely divided in the poll: 49 percent support and 47 percent oppose the ban on gay Scout leaders. This poll did not ask Protestants whether they identify as "born-again or evangelical Christians," but surveys have consistently shown that evangelical Christians are more conservative than mainline Protestants on matters related to homosexuality.
Partisanship also appears to play a role. In the poll, 68 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents oppose continuing the ban on gay Scout leaders; 61 percent of Republicans support continuing the ban.
There is a far smaller divide along parental lines: Similar majorities of Americans with children at home and those without children are opposed to continuing the ban on gay Scout leaders.
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Scott Clement is a polling analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post media. Capital Insight Director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.