NOVEMBER 16, 2001 • HOUSTON VOICE
Salvation Army rescinds domestic partner benefits
Decision follows uproar from anti-gay groups
The Salvation Army on Monday, Nov. 12,
rescinded a decision it made less than a
month earlier to allow its West Coast division to offer health care benefits to the
domestic partners of its employees.
The policy reversal came after Salvation
Army officials received a barrage of criticism from fundamentalist Christian and
anti-gay groups, who complained that the
popular charitable organization was bowing to pressure by "militant homosexuals."
"There was an uproar from the public,
both internally and externally," said Maj.
George Wood, a spokesperson for the
Salvation Army's national headquarters in
"We received about 20,000 e-mails in 48
hours, nearly all of them against the policy
change," Wood said. "These were written
by real people. They weren't canned messages."
Wood said the decision to rescind the
policy was made by the Salvation Army's
five-member national commission, which
consists of the commanders of the organization's four regions and a national commissioner.
He said the national commission
approved the earlier decision to allow the
West Coast region to offer benefits to
domestic partners on Nov 1. The policy
change, Wood said, was aimed at enabling
the Salvation Army to meet equal benefits
ordinances passed by various cities, such as
San Francisco, which require companies
and nonprofit groups providing services
under city contracts to comply with those
equal benefits laws.
San Francisco's equal benefits law
requires all firms or social services groups,
such as the Salvation Army, to provide the
same domestic partner benefits to their
employees that San Francisco provides to its
own municipal workers.
Wood said the policy change adopted by
the West Coast region used the term "legally domiciled member of an employee's
household" rather than the term domestic
partner, even though officials with the organization made it clear the term would apply
to domestic partners.
"We wanted to reach a balance between
biblical principles and the people we try to
serve," Wood said. "But this was perceived
by the public as violating biblical principles.
So the commissioners met again and decided we can't cross the line on domestic partners."
The policy adopted by the Salvation
Army on Nov. 12 prohibits the organization's regional entities from offering
employee domestic partner benefits by
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restricting benefits to an employee's spouse
and dependent children.
Wood said the new policy makes it clear
that the Salvation Army will withdraw from
or decline to enter into contracts with any
city or municipality that requires a domestic
partner benefits program as a condition for
providing social services programs.
Officials with gay civil rights groups disputed Wood's assessment of the bulk of the
complaints came from the general public,
saying the opposition e-mail messages and
phone calls were driven largely by anti-gay
Jody Renaldo, executive director of
Equality Mississippi, a gay advocacy group,
said the Mississippi-based American Family
Association called on its members across the
country to "flood" the Salvation Army with
emails, faxes, and phone calls.
"The pressure put on the Salvation Army
by the AFA worked," Renaldo said.
The D.C.-based Family Research Council
acknowledged on its Internet site that it
called on its members and supporters to
demand that the Salvation Army reverse its
domestic partners policy.
"[T]here is no escaping the fact that the
policy at issue was being driven by
demands of militant homosexual activists,"
said FRC President Kenneth Connor. "Their
goal is not simply to obtain health insurance, but to have their relationships treated
on an equal basis with traditional heterosex
Gay organizations, including the Human
Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay
political group, have insisted their calls for
recognition of same-sex relationships are
aimed at securing equal rights and benefits
"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."
Birch added, "If this decision stands, the
Salvation Army will have unambiguously
identified itself as an anti-gay organization."
The Salvation Army became the subject
of a flurry of press reports in July when the
Washington Post disclosed the contents of a
controversial, internal memo from the organization that discussed its views on gay civil
rights issues. The memo claimed that the
Bush administration had agreed to support
a federal government policy exempting the
Salvation Army from complying with local
gay civil rights laws in exchange for the
organization's support for President Bush's
faith-based initiatives legislation.
The White House denied it had entered
into such an agreement.
Brown's record clearly pro-gay; Sanchez
cast anti-gay votes on City Council
votes to compete in the runoff, set for Dec. 1.
Sanchez and Brown now face off in a
runoff election that most local political
observers agree will be close.
Brown and Bell both opposed the anti-
gay City Prop. 2, which voters approved by
a slim margin. The measure prevents the
City of Houston from offering same-sex
domestic partner benefits to its employees.
Sanchez is on record as supporting the
Bell's Thursday announcement backing
Brown's re-election campaign makes the
distinction of the incumbent as pro-gay —
versus Sanchez as an anti-gay figure —
"It's helpful of course," Murray said of
Bell's endorsement of Brown. "If you look
at the precincts where Chris was strong, he
ran well in [the heavily gay neighborhood
"One of the clear differences between
Sanchez and Bell-Brown was Prop. 2," he
Gay supporters of Bell this week
pledged their support for Brown's candidacy. He also has been endorsed by the
Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus;
Gay or Lesbian Dollars Political Action
Committee (GOLD PAC); and Annise
Parker, the City Council's only openly gay
member, who was re-elected on Nov. 6.
Brown co-sponsored an anti-discrimination measure that included gays. The ordinance was approved by the City Council in
July. Sanchez voted against that measure.
In a close election, gay men and lesbians
who vote can have a big impact, Murray
"Every vote will count Every vote really
matters here," he said.
Mayor Lee Brown
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