The Human Rights Campaign expressed great disappointment in the Salvation Army Tuesday 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 said.
"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 The new directive rescinded the group's Nov. 1 decision allowing its Western Corporation to provide health benefits to the domestic partners of its employees.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 healthcare 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."
"We urge [ the Salvation Army ] to remain relevant by embracing the full diversity of America instead of regressing and discriminating against certain families," Birch said.
In a statement earlier this month announcing the policy to extend employee benefits, 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, 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, the White House retreated and announced it was no longer pursuing the regulation, HRC said.