The Boy Scouts of America said Monday it is considering ending a ban on gays in its ranks, following years of controversy that reached a crescendo recently when a Moraga teenager was denied an Eagle Scout badge because of his sexuality.

Whether the policy will change in time for the East Bay's Ryan Andresen, 18, remains to be seen: The Scouts put no firm time frame on making their decision final -- though they said it might happen as soon as next week. Officials said they would likely leave it up to local Scouting groups to choose for themselves whether to allow gay members and leaders.

"It's certainly good news," said the teen's father, Eric Andresen. "Most certainly a step in the right direction."

Moraga teenager Ryan Andresen, 18, who was denied his Eagle Scout rank after coming out as homosexual, addresses the media after turning in an online
Moraga teenager Ryan Andresen, 18, who was denied his Eagle Scout rank after coming out as homosexual, addresses the media after turning in an online petition with more than 400,000 signatures to the Mt. Diablo Silverado Boy Scout Council in Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff Archives) ( SUSAN TRIPP POLLARD )

The announcement marked an enormous shift for an organization that has become a lightning rod in the national debate over gay rights, and was hailed by many advocates as the latest step in an inexorable march toward equality. Membership in the Scouts has dwindled in recent years, and some businesses and individuals had stopped supporting the group financially because of the ban.

"This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization's mission, principles or religious beliefs," Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement.

Andresen was expelled from the Boy Scouts last year after informing his scoutmaster that he was gay and objected to the organization's "Duty to God" requirement. An online petition supporting Andresen's attempt to gain his Eagle badge was signed by more than 500,000 people around the world.

"He'd still like to get his Eagle award,'' Eric Andresen said. "The last four months have been really rough, but he looks at this as being a step in the right direction." A shift by the national Scout leadership would push the issue back to the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council, which oversees Scouting in Contra Costa County.

"We have had a lot of conversation within the council to see what the temperature is," Scout Executive John Fenoglio of the Mt. Diablo Silverado Council said Monday after news of the possible policy change. "We have heard from fervent supporters of Ryan, and we've heard from people who don't want the policy to change, and we've heard from people who are ambivalent. We don't really know what's going to happen yet."

Scouting, with its three-fingered salute and oath of honorable conduct, has for generations of boys and leaders promoted itself as a place of high moral conduct and quasi-military upright bearing. Outdoor skills and experience were bound, the organization preached, with the values of character. But revelations about sexual abuse by Scout leaders have emerged in recent years, with some victims and parents saying the organization shielded predators and tarnished the group's reputation as protective of youth.

Andresen fulfilled the requirements for his Eagle badge by completing a "tolerance wall" -- an anti-bullying art project -- at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School.

His story struck a nerve nationally. He was interviewed by national talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper, as well as the Washington Post, Huffington Post, MSNBC and the New York Daily News.

In addition to Bay Area officials denying Andresen's bid for an Eagle badge, Scout leaders in Ohio drew widespread criticism in recent months for ousting Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian mom, as a den leader of her son's Cub Scout pack.

"An end to this ban will restore dignity to countless families across the country, my own included, who simply wanted to take part in all Scouting has to offer," Tyrrell said. "My family loved participating in Scouting, and I look forward to the day when we might once again be able to take part."

The Scouts had reaffirmed the no-gays policy as recently as last year and appeared to have strong backing from conservative religious denominations -- notably the Mormons, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists -- which sponsor large numbers of Scout units. Under the proposed change, they could continue excluding gays.

The BSA's overall "traditional youth membership" -- Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers -- was less than 2.7 million in 2012, compared with more than 4 million in peak years of the past.

In addition to flak over the no-gays policy, the Scouts have been buffeted by multiple court cases related to past allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders, including those chronicled in long-confidential records that are widely known as the "perversion files."

The Associated Press and The New York Times contributed to this story. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4780 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.