Anti-Marriage Group Sees Corporations Move to the Other Side
As support for gay marriage gains speed across the country and as gay rights becomes more and more a part of the mainstream, major corporations are increasingly lining up to support what the Right calls "the homosexual agenda." No longer considered untouchable, pro gay rights activism, donations and other forms of support are becoming a part of the corporate landscape.
In light of support by companies ranging from General Mills to Starbucks, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) recently sent an unusual request that Minnesota’s largest corporations remain neutral in that state’s highly contentious ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.
NOM, the most prominent national group whose sole purpose is to ban marriage equality, recently sent letters to the state’s 50 largest companies, as well as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, ironically citing the diversity of consumers as their main argument for neutrality.
Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, but voters will decide in November whether to place that ban permanently into the state’s constitution. The amendment would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman.
"The corporations all have customers and employees that come down on both sides," according to Jonathan Baker, the director of NOM’s recently launched "Corporate Fairness Project." "They have customers and employees that want to support the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and customers and employees that would like to extend the definition of marriage to couples of the same gender."
Corporate America Stands Firm, Despite Boycott Threats
That sounds all well and good but the argument could be made that this new tactic is basically NOM flying the white flag, unconditional surrender.
Could it be that, due to the large number of national companies falling in lockstep to support gay marriage, the best NOM feels it can do is a rearguard action and ask Fortune 500s to make no endorsement in the matter? Smart money says yes.
There’s evidence of an increasing corporate shift from neutrality if not hostility to gay issues to donations and endorsements. Corporate America, even when taking heat from opponents of gay marriage, by and large appears to be standing firm in its support for gay marriage.
Part of it might be a matter of demographics. All companies want to appear hip and appeal to young people, and survey after survey shows that younger Americans support marriage equality by large margins. Then again, part of it might be simple justice.
Whatever the motive, Minnesota-based General Mills, one of the world’s largest food companies, spoke out forcefully against the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex couples from tying the knot in the state. General Mills officials said that, although the company values diversity and inclusion, General Mills does not believe the proposed constitutional amendment is in the best interest of their employees or the state economy. The announcement was made last month at a function attended by 400 LGBT professionals.
The Right was quick to pile on to General Mills. Among those critics was NOM President Brian Brown. He termed General Mills’ stance "one of the dumbest corporate PR stunts of all time." The food giant’s products include such household brands as Wheaties, Pillsbury and Yoplait yogurt.
Minnesotans United for All Families, the group spearheading an effort to defeat the amendment in November, cheered the news. The group has publicly thanked General Mills for "supporting all Minnesota families." In addition, the Human Rights Campaign launched a petition in support of General Mills. To date, more than 70,000 people have signed HRC’s petition.
In contrast, NOM launched a petition denouncing General Mills, which so far has been backed by only 17,000 people, nearly five times fewer than HRC’s petition.
Washington State Pro-Marriage Sluggers
Outside of Minnesota, NOM and its supporters have found themselves in similar situations.
In November, Washington State voters will decide the fate of the state’s marriage equality law. State legislators passed the measure and Gov. Christine Gregoire signed it into law in February. Opponents of gay marriage collected a record number of signatures to place a referendum on the ballot.
When Seattle-based Starbucks, a coffee titan, opposed the anti-gay amendment, NOM called for a boycott of the company. A "Thank You Starbucks" Web campaign received more than 650,000 supporters, while NOM’s "Dump Starbucks" campaign has received about 45,000.
On July 2, giant corporation Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer each donated $100,000 to support the campaign to Approve Referendum 74 and keep the state’s same-sex marriage law unscathed. This isn’t the first time Microsoft has been supportive of gay marriage.
In January, Microsoft signed on to a letter with other prominent local companies to urge the Legislature to pass the gay marriage bill. Amazon and Nike joined them. In November, 2011, it had joined with about 70 major companies nationwide in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
The corporate support sometimes takes a whimsical turn -- equally infuriating to the Right.
To celebrate Pride month, Kraft Foods posed a gay-pride-themed picture of an Oreo cookie on Facebook, June 25. The post pictured an Oreo filled with six layers of frosting in the colors of the rainbow Pride flag. An accompanying text reads, "Proudly support love!"
Despite some calls for a boycott, Kraft’s gay pride Oreo post drew 20,000 comments.
Back in Minnesota, the Target Corporation found itself in hot water with NOM when it launched a Pride tee-shirt campaign in honor of Gay Pride Month, selling a variety of designs online for $12.99 a piece, with all of the proceeds going to the Family Equality Council. The retail giant, based out of Minnesota, sold out the entire stock in less than a month, raising $120,000 for the beneficiary.
NOMs Baker questioned Target’s intentions with the Pride Tee Shirt campaign. "What we’re asking businesses to do is create a work environment that is welcoming to all of the employees. And they can do that through adopting a neutral stance over the Minnesota Marriage amendment."
The last time Target made the news on the gay marriage issue, it was in stark contrast to the Pride tee shirt campaign. In 2010, the company donated money to Minnesota Forward, a PAC that supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer; a staunch opponent of gay marriage and domestic partnership benefits for government employees. Many LGBT activists called for a boycott on Target because of the company’s contribution to the pro-Emmer group.
Whether because of that pressure, bad press or a genuine change of heart, it appears that Target has done a 180-degree turn.
Chick-Fil-A Continues Anti-Gay Policies
Although NOM isn’t feeling the love these days from corporate America, In his letter to businesses, Baker warned of the hazards of "wading into a culture war," and pointed out that North Carolina voters recently approved a marriage amendment.
Minnesota is different, however. Minnesotans United for All Families reported last month it had raised $3.1 million in the first half of 2012. The amount brought the group’s total since the start of the campaign in 2011 to $4.6 million. That means the group has raised three times more money than the NOM-backed supporters of the effort to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Still, there exist companies that make large donations to anti-gay groups. Chick-Fil-A has become better known for its alleged anti-gay donations than for its fried chicken. According to a newly-released analysis of Chick-Fil-A’s charitable work, found that the fast food chain donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups over the course of 2010. Even more disturbing, Chick-Fil-A is said to have donated an estimated $5 million to anti-gay organizations and hate groups between 2003 and 2010.
Among the anti-gay groups that WinShape, Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm, donated to in 2010 are Marriage & Family Foundation, National Christian Foundation, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council - to name a few. Oddly enough, the National Organization for Marriage did not receive any donation from Chick-Fil-A.
Still the Chick-Fil-A’s appear to be outnumbered by the pro-gay groups. As more and more corporations line up to support our rights, those on the Right are finding that boycotts are quickly becoming impossible in a consumer culture dominated by giant (pro-gay) companies.
An anti-gay consumer, for example, would have to steer clear of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and IBM for starters. That pretty much leaves the electric typewriter in the attic.
Furthermore, the threat of right-wing boycotts long ago lost their sting when the powerful Southern Baptists joined with other groups in a much-ballyhooed boycott of the Walt Disney Company. The boycott appeared to make not one dent in the corporate coffers of the entertainment giant.