The new president of the Boy Scouts of America has claimed that attempting to repeal a ban on gay adult members would provoke a split in the movement.

Robert Gates – who is former director of the CIA, and oversaw the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the US military as Defence Secretary – was elected President of the BSA on Thursday.

Speaking to supporters at the meeting, he said he would have gone further than just repealing the ban on gay youth members, but said he “fully accepts” the earlier decision.

He said: “I was prepared to go further than the decision that was made.

“In all candor, I would have supported going further, as I did in opening the way for gays to serve in the CIA and in the military.

“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.

“Given the strong feelings 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.”

Arizona Eagle Scout Garrett Bryant was ejected from the organisation last month, after he was accidentally outed by friends on Facebook.

The BSA revoked the affiliation of Troop 98 in Seattle entirely, after members stood by the group’s openly gay scout master Geoff McGrath.