The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) agreed Friday to admit gay youth members, while maintaining a ban on adult leaders in the movement, long seen as symbolizing traditional US values.
The organization -- which announced in February that it was delaying a decision on the contentious issue -- agreed the partial admission of homosexuals in a resolution updating its "membership standards."
"No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," it said, adding that the new rules will come into force on January 1, 2014.
But it reaffirmed its existing rules for adult leaders of the movement, in the resolution posted on its Facebook page.
"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA," it said.
The 103-year-old institution, famed for its outdoor training programs and preaching of simple virtues, has close links to the country's conservative and religious heartlands.
However, the group, which is separate from the Girl Scouts of the USA and counts 2.6 million boys in its membership, has become increasingly unsure of its position in wider society.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in February found that voters across the country are 55 percent in favor of an end to the Scouts' ban, with only 33 percent against.
There was a notable gender gap in the poll, with 61 to 27 percent of women in favor of ending the ban, but men split 49 to 39 percent.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 in favor of the Boy Scouts, saying that the prohibition against openly homosexual members was part of its right as a private organization to free association and that it could not be forced to adopt an unwanted message.