by Robert Docter –
San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance went into effect June 1, 1997. The ordinance amended Chapters 12B and 12C of San Francisco’s Nondiscrimination in Contracts Ordinance and prohibits the city from entering into contracts or leases with any business that discriminates between employees with spouses and employees with domestic partners with respect to any benefits they provide. The law requires the contracting entity to establish equal treatment of spouses and domestic partners anywhere it functions in the United States.
The Salvation Army, a city contractor for generations providing a wide array of social programs, has sought waivers from compliance with the requirements of Chapters 12B and 12C available in the law on the grounds that it is a “sole provider” of the needed good or service and that the good or service would not be provided by any other contractor “with the same quality or accessibility.”
The Army has examined the ordinance carefully and made a significant effort to comply. Because the Army’s work nationally would be impacted, discussions included the highest levels of national administration. The waiver requests were submitted following extensive study of this matter, which resulted in a finding that the Army would be unable to proceed with compliance apart from seeking waivers. Decisions by the city concerning the waiver requests are still pending at this time.
Over many decades, The Salvation Army has contracted with San Francisco to provide services for homeless, indigent, or addicted individuals as well as meals for the hungry and destitute, for those suffering the ravages of AIDS, and for seniors in poverty. In order to provide these services, which cost approximately $8.2 million, the Army contributes approximately $4.7 million annually in the: up-keep of central kitchen facilities, food distribution equipment, homelessness recovery facilities, addictions rehabilitation programs and facilities, and senior service centers, and in the provision of trained personnel necessary to make these programs work. The programs provide much more than a meal or a job–more than a recovery program or a bed for the night–more than a social service referral. They provide the compassionate, caring ministry of an Army of Salvation whose entire ethic is rooted in altruism.
In the United States, each of the four territories and national headquarters are incorporated individually: The Salva-tion Army is, nevertheless, a single entity, and the imposition of personnel policy by the City of San Francisco could eventually impact Salvation Army services nationally.
Moreover, the Army’s belief system, grounded in traditional interpretation of Scripture, does not perceive domestic partnership arrangements as similar to the sanctity granted marriage partners.
It should be noted, however, that all Salvation Army services have been and continue to be provided without discrimination of any kind. The Army will continue to examine the requirements of the ordinance that might allow at least one member of any employee’s household to have access to medical benefits afforded a spouse without making it appear that it was acting in contradiction of its beliefs.
While the resources of city contracts are clearly in jeopardy, the Army will not retreat from its historic commitments to helping individuals regardless of race, sex, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, domestic partner status or HIV status.