Shortly after the Salvation Army's western jurisdiction said in early November that it would extend employee health-care benefits to partners that could include gay and lesbians, the decision was overruled by the evangelical denomination's U.S. headquarters. Focus on the Family and other conservative groups had assailed the breach in "pro-family" ranks in the few days between announcements.
The Army's 13-state regional organization, based in Long Beach, California, had lost about $3.5 million in government funds in 1998 when it decided not to comply with a San Francisco law stipulating that companies doing business with the city must offer such benefits. The shift would have reflected a new view of household realities, at least in the western states.
"Our decision is a reflection of the concern we hold 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," Colonel Philip D. Needham, secretary of the western territory's corporation, had said in a statement. "We do not ask people to pass our morality litmus test before we give them help. Christian compassion is not conditional. We neutralize our enemies with love," he added, noting that there was no change in the church's position that same-sex relations defy God's intent.
However, from U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, it was announced November 13 that the Salvation Army's Commissioners' Conference had adopted a national policy to extend health benefits only "to employees' spouses and dependent children," The statement added, "the process was a careful consideration of the thinking, concerns and fears shared by our constituents."
Major George Hood, national public affairs officer for the Salvation Army, said the Army's four national territories ordinarily govern themselves autonomously. …