Is Corporate Support of Gay Marriage Good PR?

by cindybrugge

Gay rights is a major issue in American politics and makes its way into pop culture, personal perspectives and corporate views. In fact, Ellen Page’s coming out speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference inspired this blog post. It’s a part of our world and sometimes makes a splash in corporate communications. Many companies have stepped out to support or protest gay marriage over the years. Is this a good idea?

For a long time, the United States has focused enormous energy and attention to the issue of same sex marriage. In the summer of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. This action invalidated previous attempts to deny federal marriage benefits to same-sex married couples.

Shortly after this decision, the Queen of England granted royal assent to a same-sex marriage bill, which goes into effect in March 2014. This made England the 16th country to legalize gay marriage. Most of these countries are in Europe or the Americas and have taken this step in only the past decade.

International Right To Marry

However groundbreaking ending the DOMA was, it left many legal questions for gay couples. If the couple married in a state that allows same-sex marriage and moves to a state that doesn’t allow for same sex marriage, do their rights change? What about tax laws that don’t fall under the DOMA? Does this change affect bi-national couples? Should they receive an automatic visa if they have a US citizen for a spouse?

As a result of these questions, different lawsuits have arisen around the country about how federal law affects states’ attempts to stifle gay rights. Just before Valentine’s Day, a district court judge struck down the Virginia gay marriage ban. Other anti-gay-marriage laws are failing around the country, in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky, as many judges agree that same-sex marriage should be recognized nationwide.

Those who don’t support same-sex marriage claim that forcing states to support an action that they find immoral is “tyranny.” After the ruling in Virginia, tweets showed some similar beliefs. Opinions like these remind America that although gay rights have experienced some victories, we are still an exceptionally divided country.

So the question arises: although same-sex marriage is gaining headway in the political arena, is it safe to openly support it? That’s a tough question. Following the overturning of DOMA, many companies, such as Apple, Google, Master Card and Starbucks, came out in favor of the action. These companies might be considered more obvious choices for liberal support of social issues. However, a public statement by Johnson & Johnson was a personal shocker. A company so intimately associated with family values would not normally be expected to publicly support such an issue. After looking at their PAC contributions, they don’t solely lean left; they also support conservative representatives. It is likely that their support came from personal beliefs, rather than partisan allegiance.

Johnson & Johnson

Is this smart for a company to do, when it comes to gay marriage? Chick-fil-A is another company that considers itself family friendly. However, they are well known for speaking out against same-sex marriage. This public relations disaster arose in 2012, after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said that we were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation” by trying to redefine marriage. The same Cathy tweeted a similar comment, when DOMA was struck down, saying that the founding fathers would be ashamed of these actions. The tweet was later deleted and Chick-fil-A released a statement. However, most people know that Chick-fil-A is not a gay friendly company. As a result, Chick-fil-A has received a lot of negative backlash from gay supporters, through picketing and boycotts.

Gay rights Chick Fil A

When a Sandleman & Associates survey said that use of the company was up 2.2%, an article in USA Today attributed this phenomenon to the old saying – “any PR is good PR.”

Is this true? I personally don’t think so. If you don’t have a strong opinion, don’t say anything that would isolate yourself from either party.

If you are going to say something, I would suggest support of same-sex marriage. Supporting gay rights is an acceptance-based perspective. By disagreeing with gay marriage, it can seem like an attempt to discriminate against a group of people for their sexual orientation. By supporting their desires, a corporation can be showing them acceptance and acknowledgement, rather than detestation and distance.

Plus – honestly, at this point, anti-gay protesters are fighting a losing battle. Although the nation is divided, the majority is in support of gay marriage. Don’t fight from a losing position. Be on the winning team or stay neutral.

Sidenote: No harm intended to Chick-fil-A. I eat there all the time and I have nothing against the company.