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Scott Walker: Boy Scouts should decide if they want gay leaders, not me

File: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

LEXINGTON, S.C. --- Scott Walker is no longer openly criticizing the Boy Scouts of America for taking steps toward allowing gay leaders.

Walker said in comments published Tuesday that the Boy Scouts should keep its blanket ban on openly gay leaders because the policy "protected children and advanced Scout values." The comment quickly attracted criticism from LGBT rights activists, who accused the governor of suggesting that gay leaders are a threat to children.

[Earlier coverage: Scott Walker: Boy Scouts ban on gay leaders ‘protected children’]

On Wednesday, Walker said the decision is up to the Boy Scouts, not him. It was another example of the governor appearing to back away from a controversial stance, even as he presents himself on the campaign trail as being a steadfast conservative not afraid of an unpopular fight.

"That's up to the Boy Scouts," Walker said of the proposed policy change, following a campaign stop at a barbecue restaurant. "I'm an Eagle Scout... All that I pointed out was that the policy was perfectly fine when I was there and I thought they should be protected from all of the political and media controversy about it. There's nothing more to it than that. It's their decision."

When asked by a reporter if he supports or opposes allowing gay Boy Scout leaders, Walker replied: "I'm not running for president of the Boy Scouts."

Another reporter then pressed Walker on what he meant in saying that the previous policy protected children. At first Walker refused to answer the question, saying that he had already done so. But he relented.

"The protection was not a physical protection," he said. "The policy protected them from being involved in the very thing that you're... talking about right now, the political and media discussion about it instead of just focusing on what Scouts is about, which is about camping and citizenship and things of that nature."

[Five things you might not know about Scott Walker]

Gay rights has become a mine field for Walker, who launched his presidential campaign on Monday and is aiming to win the Iowa caucuses, which are often dominated by social conservatives. Walker called the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision allowing gay marriage in all 50 states a "grave mistake," frustrating some prominent East Coast supporters who worry he has gone too far to the right. Walker's two college-aged sons, Matt and Alex Walker, have said they don't agree with their father's stance and support gay marriage.

The governor also called for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to decide if they want to allow gay marriage or not -- although he has yet to add it to the list of things he would do soon after becoming president, like repealing the Affordable Care Act and getting rid of excess regulations.

This is not the first time this year Walker has appeared to back down from an issue when faced with opposition. In February, Walker introduced a budget that proposed massive reforms for the University of Wisconsin System, including changing its storied mission statement to focus on work force preparation instead of the pursuit of knowledge. University officials, alums and others erupted in protest. Walker quickly abandoned that idea and distanced himself, with an aide calling it a "drafting error."

Earlier this month, as lawmakers scrambled to finish the state budget, Republicans added a provision that would greatly restricted the types of documents reporters and others could request under the open records law. Such a change would have shielded Walker as he jumps into the presidential race and faces greater scrutiny. Amid a burst of angry protest from both liberal and conservative groups, Walker and top Republican leaders quickly issued a statement essentially killing the proposal. Although Republican leaders said Walker's staff helped to draft the language, Walker said in a radio interview that the idea was "a huge mistake" that "didn't come from us."