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.
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