By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp, the top U.S. defense contractor, has halted donations to the Boy Scouts of America because of the group's policies on religion and to exclude some gays from its ranks, it said on Thursday.
Lockheed's decision makes it the latest corporate sponsor to pull its donations from the Scouts, which voted to end a ban on gay scouts effective at the start of 2014, but has left in place a prohibition on gays serving as adult Scout leaders.
"While we applaud the mission of the Boy Scouts and the good things they do in our communities, their policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and religious affiliation conflict with Lockheed Martin policies," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.
The Boy Scouts believe that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God, the group says in its charter.
Lockheed did not disclose the amount of money it regularly donated to the Scouts.
Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said the organization that has had several million members over its more than century-long history, respected Lockheed's right to express its own opinion.
"Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to accomplish the common good," Smith said in an emailed statement.
The ban on gays in leadership also has cost the Boy Scouts other corporate sponsors.
Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc suspended its $25,000-a-year support for a local Illinois council in 2013, saying it could not support an organization that continued to discriminate against homosexuals.
Intel Corp, one of the largest corporate sponsors of the Boy Scouts, said in September 2012 that it would stop supporting troops that continue to ban gay scouts. Intel donated about $700,000 in 2009, according to the American Independent magazine.
The Merck Foundation also stopped giving to the national Boy Scouts organization in recent years.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the next Boy Scouts president, will face the task of smoothing out the divisions within the organization and restoring the tarnished public image.
As defense secretary, Gates supported President Barack Obama's withdrawal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
While a Boy Scout, Gates achieved the highest honor of Eagle Scout. He is due to begin his two-year term in May 2014.
(Reporting By Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Andre Grenon)