HRC Greatly Disappointed In The Salvation Army’s Decision To Rescind Health Care Benefits For Domestic Partners

The Human Rights Campaign expressed great disappointment in the

Salvation Army for rescinding a decision to extend health benefits to

the domestic partners of its employees in a regional division. The turnabout

came as a result of a pressure campaign by anti-gay organizations, that

forced the group to backtrack on a forward-thinking policy that only weeks

ago it called “a decision made on the basis of moral and ethical reasoning,”

HRC asserts.

“We are dismayed that the Salvation Army’s national leaders stepped back in

time and usurped the strong leadership of a local division to include and

support all families,” said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. “We urge

the organization to return to basing its policies on ‘moral and ethical

reasoning’ instead of what appeases anti-gay political pressure groups. If

this decision stands, the Salvation Army will have unambiguously identified

itself as an anti-gay organization.”

On Monday, after a weeklong barrage of lobbying from anti-gay

groups, the Salvation Army’s national leadership, led by Commissioner

Lawrence R. Moretz, instituted a new policy that stripped regional divisions

of the authority to make decisions on expanding health benefits. The new

directive rescinded the group’s Nov. 1 decision allowing its Western

Corporation to provide health benefits to the domestic partners of its

employees. A terse statement by Moretz indicated the Salvation Army’s intent

to renege on this policy and hurt families, according to HRC.

“Today, the Commissioners’ Conference established a national policy

to extend health benefit access to an employee’s spouse and dependent

children only,” Moretz said in the statement. “I assure you, again, that the

Salvation Army has not changed its position on marriage and the family,

homosexuality or other position statements, nor have we changed any of our

basic doctrines or moral positions.”

In rescinding the policy and establishing a national policy on health care

benefit access to spouses and dependent children only, we must stand united

in the battle that will undoubtedly follow from those who would now

challenge our biblical and traditional position.” Moretz continued. “We

will not sign any government contract or any other funding contracts that

contain domestic partner benefit requirements.”

Birch said the Salvation Army’s decision “will surely disappoint millions of

Americas who want the group to be a unifying force in this country that

helps all American families, instead of a narrowly focused group that caters

to the whims of the extreme right wing.”

“The Salvation Army can’t have it both ways,” she said. “We urge it to

remain relevant by embracing the full diversity of America instead of

regressing and discriminating against certain families.”

In a statement earlier this month announcing the policy to extend employee

benefits to domestic partners, the Salvation Army said changes in the

American family dictated a change in policy.

“This decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and

those closest to them, and is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral

reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent

years,” said Col. Phillip D. Needham, chief secretary for the Army’s Western

Corporation, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif.

The announcement made the Western Corporation the first Salvation

Army division to make such policy modifications. The short-lived change

brought the group in line with much of corporate America and would have

brought the Salvation Army into compliance with San Francisco’s Equal

Benefits Ordinance. The number of employers that offer domestic partner

benefits has increased by more than 50 percent since August 1999 — from

2,856 to 4,337 today. And the number of Fortune 500 companies offering

domestic partner benefits has more than doubled in the past three years,

from 61 in 1998 to 151 today.

In July, a controversy erupted after The Washington Post reported on a

leaked Salvation Army memo. The memo said that in exchange for the group’s

support on the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative, the

administration had made a “firm commitment” to shield religious charities

that receive federal funds from city and statewide ordinances that protect

gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Under intense pressure from civil rights groups and members of

Congress who were outraged by the reported deal, the White House retreated

and announced it was no longer pursuing the discriminatory regulation

championed by the Salvation Army.

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