The nation's third largest Boy Scout council expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation, defying the national group's policy of refusing membership to gays.

The board of the Cradle of Liberty Council (search), which has 87,000 members in Philadelphia and two neighboring counties, voted unanimously this month to make the change after discussions with gay activists and other community leaders that began two years ago.

"We disagree with the national stance, and we're not comfortable with the stated national policy," council Chairman David H. Lipson Jr. said.

The code of the national Boy Scouts of America (search) organization requires members to be "morally straight," though no written rule specifically addresses homosexuality.

A call to Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas, was not immediately returned Thursday. Its national convention was beginning Thursday in Philadelphia.

In 2000, the national group went to the Supreme Court (search) to defend a ban on gay leaders, saying that as a private organization, it is free to choose its members however it wishes.

The Scouts won the case, but the battle led some businesses and public schools to reconsider their ties with the organization, and at least 50 United Way offices pulled their contributions.

A few months after the court victory, gay activists and others objected to funding by the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania for a youth development program run by the Boy Scouts, even though the program was open to anyone.

"The reality is, we did get some pressure from other groups who said, 'This program may not discriminate, but this organization does,"' said Christine James-Brown, president of the regional United Way.

The United Way organized the talks that led to the council's nondiscrimination statement this month.

"There was anger about that (national) policy. I think people set that aside and said, 'Let's try to make it work in this community,"' James-Brown said.

In July 2001, the Boston Minuteman Council approved a bylaw that effectively allows gays who don't reveal their sexual orientation.