The Salvation Army, which relies locally on funding from the city of Seattle, says it is not anti-gay but just doesn't want "local government telling us what we can and can't believe."
While the nation's largest charity does not discriminate against gays in hiring or in providing services to those in need, it doesn't want to be forced to provide gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as married employees, said David Fuscus, a national spokesman for the organization.
Giving gay couples that status would conflict with the organization's religious beliefs, he said.
The Salvation Army was embroiled in controversy yesterday after news accounts suggested it was working with the Bush administration on a regulation that would let taxpayer-funded religious groups ignore city and state laws that bar discrimination against gays.
Many donors called the Seattle office for clarification, acknowledged Mike Seely, director of community relations for the Northwest Division. Facing controversy, the White House dropped consideration of such a regulation yesterday.
"It's totally foolhardy to think an organization that operates a plethora of AIDS hospices nationwide is anti-gay," Seely said.
The city requires every contractor, including the Salvation Army, to agree not to discriminate against any employee. More recently, the city required major private contractors with the city to give gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as married employees.
But that benefits law exempts nonprofit human-service programs, such as the Salvation Army.
The organization receives a little more than $1.4 million a year in government funds to provide the city of Seattle with shelters, transitional housing and such services as legal advocacy for victims of domestic violence.
The Salvation Army is an independent Protestant denomination with churches across the country and an $8 billion annual budget. Ordained ministers run the operation, which employs 45,000 people.
The Salvation Army's nondiscrimination policy extends to its ordained clergy, with one big exception: If a minister wants to "come out" as openly gay, he or she must be celibate. Otherwise, the Salvation Army would require the person to take a "civilian" job within the organization, Seely said.
In pursuing new federal regulations, the Salvation Army wanted to protect its beliefs from government regulation, Seely said.
"We don't want local government telling us what we can and can't believe," he said.