A longtime Christian-based social service agency noted for its traditional views has decided to offer same-sex partner benefits to employees.

The Salvation Army’s Western Division, which encompasses 13 states, has announced it would reverse its policy on the issue – a move that will again allow the organization to compete for taxpayer money from San Francisco.

In 1998, the Salvation Army gave up $3.5 million in city money rather than comply with the city’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires city contractors to offer their employees with domestic partners – homosexual or heterosexual – the same benefits as their married co-workers.

Salvation Army officials first said the law conflicted with the organization’s pro-family, Christian beliefs, but now the thinking is different.

“I don’t think there’s been a theological shift,” said Lt. Col. Bettie Love of the Salvation Army’s Golden State Division. “I think there’s been a new awareness of our world.”

Col. Philip Needham of the Salvation Army’s Western Corporation added: “This decision … is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years.”

About 1 percent to 2 percent of the 10,000 employees are expected to take advantage of the benefits, which will be available within two years.

Charisma News Service is a division of Strang Communications.

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