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Salvation Army Policy Decried

Religion: Bay Area officials criticize the organization for halting health benefits to domestic partners.


SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area officials on Wednesday blasted the Salvation Army for a decision to limit its health benefits to married couples and their dependent children, saying the relief group needed to rethink its policies if it wanted to do business here.

Earlier this month, the Salvation Army extended health benefits to include domestic partners in 13 Western states--a move praised by gay rights groups but derided by conservative organizations.

But Tuesday, national leaders of the evangelical Christian organization rescinded the order, voiding the local office's right to alter employee health insurance.

That brought sharp criticism in Oakland, which is poised to enact legislation requiring companies that do business with the city to provide domestic partner benefits. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Mateo County have already passed similar laws.

"The Salvation Army can keep its principles; it just doesn't have to come to Oakland," said Councilman Danny Wan, the council's first openly gay member.

Salvation Army officials in Long Beach said the organization's aid to the poor would continue.

Said Capt. Robert Rudd, community relations and development secretary for the organization's Western Territory: "Our policy may have changed, but our mission has not changed one iota."

Christian pro-family groups praised the most recent policy change, saying the Western region had bowed "to pressure from militant homosexuals."

"We applaud the Salvation Army for maintaining its strong evangelical Christian values," said Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, a conservative nonprofit organization.

He characterized domestic partner laws as "extreme coercive measures to force misguided policies upon contractors and private charities."

"Rather than ask the Salvation Army to give up its religious principles for funding, they should give up their pro-gay agenda to benefit from the services the Salvation Army provides," he said.

Civil rights advocates in San Francisco say the Salvation Army's move Tuesday hurts not only gays, but also people such as grandmothers and adult children.

"The Western Territory reached a compromise where it didn't officially recognize same-sex relationships but allowed employees to designate another member of the household to receive benefits," said activist Jeff Sheehy. "Maybe it was an uncle or adult child. Now everybody loses."

The Salvation Army does not have any social service contracts in San Francisco. The group lost a contract to provide Meals on Wheels delivery in 1996 after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to pass a domestic partner law.

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly expressed disappointment Wednesday with the Salvation Army. "They were making some strides in the right direction," he said. "They've been talking with the city about opening new contracts, but they're going to have to offer those benefits to get them."

Wan said Oakland would vote later this month on its domestic partner law. He said the Salvation Army holds a contract to provide winter shelters for the homeless. If the new law is passed, officials will review that contract.

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