Gates: I would've backed gay Scout leaders

Former Defense secretary Robert Gates, now president of the Boy Scouts, said Friday he would have supported openly gay Scout leaders in the organization but wont reopen the issue now.

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"I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made," Gates, who was officially confirmed as president on Thursday, told The Associated Press. "I would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country."

Last year, the group voted to allow gay youth into the organization but not openly gay Scout leaders. At the time, gay rights groups commended the Boy Scouts of America but said the decision did not go far enough. 

Gates warned that opening up the debate again could fracture the organization. 

"Given the strong feelings — the passion — involved on both sides of this matter, I believe strongly that to re-open the membership issue or try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement — with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own," he said in a speech at the group's National Council Recognition Dinner in Nashville. 

He served as Defense Secretary under President Obama and George W. Bush, and oversaw the Pentagon during its shift away from its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the military. 

Gates, a former Eagle Scout, took over for former President Wayne Perry.