SAN FRANCISCO Less than two weeks after Western officials of the Salvation Army decided to extend health benefits to domestic partners in 13 states, the group's national leaders have rescinded the order.
Until this month, the evangelical Christian group offered benefits only to married couples and their dependent children. But leaders of the group's Western Territory said Nov. 1 they would also begin offering benefits to all adult members of an employee's household, including straight and gay partners.
Under the national leaders' decision Monday, the Western Territory will follow the same policy as the rest of the group.
"We've been listening to our internal and external constituencies, and we now confirm adherence to biblical principles concerning marriage and the family," said Theresa Whitfield, the Salvation Army's media relations director.
In October, the Salvation Army's commissioners decided to let the four U.S. territories determine their health care policies, and the Western Territory was the only one to expand benefits. On Monday, the commissioners decided to return health care policymaking to the national level.
"The reason why we made that choice was so we could be fair and equitable to our employees who we hire without discrimination," said Capt. Robert Rudd, community relations and development secretary for the Western Territory.
The decision to offer the benefits had shocked other evangelical Christian organizations.
"It's very unusual for an evangelical Christian organization that holds the truth of Scripture to do anything that would give the impression that two men living together, for example, is the equivalent of marriage, or a man and a woman, for that matter," said Ed Vitagliano, a spokesman for the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Families Association.
The reversal has angered gay-rights groups.
"It establishes the organization as anti-gay, and in a country that's yearning to come together and heal, this was an extremely divisive move that I don't think will be looked on kindly," said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. "We're talking about health care, about providing health benefits, and what the Salvation Army has decided to do is prevent certain families from getting health care, and that's just mean."
The Salvation Army said it's not anti-gay, and Whitfield said the group doesn't ask about sexual orientation when hiring. A statement on the organization's Web site says it does not believe the Bible condones homosexuality, but that Salvation Army services are available to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Western Territory covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, plus Guam, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
On the Net:
Salvation Army: http://www.salvationarmyusa.org
Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org
American Families Association: http://www.afa.net
© 2001 The Associated Press