Various conservative Christians are cautioning that a compromise struck between the city of San Francisco and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese there could have a profound impact on expanding homosexual rights throughout the country.

Since 1991, city employees who register as "domestic partners" have received the same health and retirement benefits as married couples. Beginning in June, the same coverage will be required of any private or nonprofit organization that contracts with the city.

Initially, Catholic Archbishop William J. Levada, representing Catholic Charities—which has more than $5 million in city contracts—requested a religious exemption. Less than a week later, the archbishop and the city reached a compromise. The agreement allows an employee to "designate a legally domiciled member of the employee's household as being eligible for spousal equivalent benefits."

"In one fell swoop the city government is forcing more than eight thousand businesses, charities, and other agencies to equate homosexuality with marriage," says Randy Thomasson, assistant director of Capitol Resource Institute, a family-issues policy center in Sacramento affiliated with Focus on the Family. "This ordinance is not just a slippery slope. It's a leap off the cliff."

Levada is satisfied that the agreement will not require church agencies to "compromise our Catholic teachings on the unique importance of marriage and family."

RELINQUISHING TOO MUCH? But some Catholics and Protestants are concerned that the church door is open to further inroads by homosexual activists.

William Donohue, president of Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York, hopes that a bishop elsewhere will file a lawsuit to send the message that "you cannot compromise religious principles for political purposes."

Local religious organizations are not the only ones targeted under the ordinance. City supervisors also are requiring parent organizations to provide the same benefits for employees outside of San Francisco. United Airlines, told that a $90 million lease agreement would be withheld, agreed to comply nationwide within two years for all 86,000 employees.

James Hitchcock, a Catholic history professor at Saint Louis University, says, "This agreement can set a very dangerous precedent" if it allows churches to be used as a conduit for public funding of charities. "What sort of controls will the government impose, and how much will the churches resist?"

State Sen. Tim Leslie (R-Sacramento) believes the ordinance is political extortion. "It makes you wonder, if the church isn't willing to stand up to this, who will?"

'CUTTING EDGE LEGISLATION': San Francisco is the first major city to pass such "cutting-edge legislation," says openly homosexual City Supervisor Leslie Katz, the measure's coauthor. Supervisor Barbara Kaufman says she hopes such "groundbreaking legislation" is "replicated throughout the country."

Publisher Peter LaBarbera, whose Lambda Report monitors the homosexual movement, says homosexuals view the reaction of the diocese as a capitulation. "For years we have heard of the call for tolerance, yet when they are in power, forced acceptance is the game," LaBarbera says.

This issue is destined to reach the halls of the U.S. Congress. "The homosexual activists in San Francisco know full well that they, in terms of redefining the family, are attempting to be the tail that wags the dog of the entire country," says Robert Knight, a policy analyst for Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Once official recognition is received, the moral argument disappears, he says. "Then it's just a matter of accommodating by degrees."

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