From Chick-fil-A to Amazon, Why Companies Take a Stand on Social Issues

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Alex Wong / Getty Images

Customers leave a Chick-fil-A in Springfield, Va., on July 26, 2012

Last week, billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie pledged $2.5 million to help pass a referendum on same-sex marriage in Washington State. With the donation, the Bezoses became the largest public financial backers of gay rights in the country — and the liberal answer to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy, who made waves two weeks ago when he affirmed his company’s opposition to gay marriage. But in terms of what they sell, neither Amazon nor Chick-fil-A has anything to do with gay marriage, so why did Bezos and Cathy each enter the political arena by making a statement on a divisive social issue?

For Cathy, it was a matter of staying true to his family-owned company’s firmly held, long-standing Christian beliefs. Chick-fil-A’s religious ties have always been public information. Not only are Chick-fil-A locations closed on Sunday, but over the years, the company’s charitable arm, called the WinShape Foundation, has given millions of dollars to groups that support its stance on marriage, including the Marriage & Family Foundation, Exodus International and the Family Research Council. But Cathy made his company’s position even more clear on July 16, when he told the Baptist Press that if people were concerned with the company’s views on the traditional family, then Chick-fil-A was “guilty as charged.” He continued, “We are very much supportive of the family — the Biblical definition of the family unit. … We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principals.”

(MORE: Politicians Coast to Coast Take Sides on Chick-fil-A’s Gay-Marriage Controversy)

Although Bezos and Cathy have different opinions on gay marriage, the motivation for disclosing their beliefs may have been similar. With his donation to the supporters of Referendum 74 — which would uphold the legislature’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State — Bezos is essentially reaffirming his commitment to an issue he has publicly supported in the past. Though Amazon has not been as overt in its support of gay rights as Chick-fil-A has been in its opposition, earlier this year, when the Washington State legislature was prepping the same-sex marriage legislation, Amazon added its name to the list of companies that support the measure, which includes Starbucks, Microsoft and Nike, among others.

According to the New York Times, Bezos was prompted to make the donation by a former employee, Jennifer Cast, a lesbian mother of four children. Cast reportedly sent an e-mail to Bezos detailing why the referendum was so important to her and urging his support. “Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality. I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so,” she wrote. Two days later, Bezos replied, “Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million.”

So far the outcry against the Bezoses’ donation has been virtually nonexistent, which might in part be because public support of gay marriage is at an all-time high. According to a Washington Post–ABC News poll in May, 53% of Americans say gay marriage should be legal, while 39% say gay marriage should be illegal. But that’s not to say companies haven’t faced outrage for making pro-gay statements. In February, the American Family Association, a conservative Christian nonprofit that opposes same-sex marriage, organized a campaign through its One Million Moms group to protest J.C. Penney’s hiring of openly gay talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman. In response to the campaign, J.C. Penney not only stood behind DeGeneres but ran ads featuring same-sex parents a few months later, and One Million Moms eventually abandoned its battle cry.

(PHOTOS: Gay Marriages in New York City Begin)

Similarly, when General Mills, which is based in Minnesota, announced in June that it opposed a proposed amendment that would ban gay marriage in the state, many supporters cheered the statement, but members of a group called Minnesota for Marriage staged a small protest outside the company’s headquarters and encouraged sympathizers to drop off unopened boxes of General Mills cereals outside the corporation’s offices.

Even seemingly innocuous gestures have led to full-on debates. In June, Oreo posted a photo of a cookie with rainbow-colored filling on its Facebook page in recognition of LGBT Pride Month. While the company says the majority of the 50,000-plus comments the post received were positive, some commenters said they would stop buying Oreos because of the photo. One comment read, “Think about how much business u just killed oreo. I can’t support a business that supports gays.”

Some companies have found themselves at the other end of the spectrum. In 2010, Target donated $150,000 to a political group that supported Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposed gay marriage. Public outrage over the donation spread far beyond the confines of Minnesota, where Target is headquartered, and prompted thousands nationwide to sign a petition to boycott the budget retailer. Target, which has said it made the donation to the group because of its pro-business stance, attempted to settle the outcry by making statements in support of the LGBT community. This May the retailer began selling gay-pride T-shirts, one of which reads, “Love Is Love,” and announced that all proceeds would go to the gay-rights group Family Equality Council.

(MORE: God and Gays)

As these examples demonstrate, regardless of a company’s position on gay marriage, voicing support or opposition is almost guaranteed to spur some sort of public reaction. But sometimes even representatives of companies that prefer to stay out of the political arena feel so passionately about an issue that they throw their opinion into the public sphere. Take Google, for instance. While the company has long been politically active on policy issues that involve technology and information access, it was mostly quiet on social issues until 2008, when co-founder and then president Sergey Brin came out in a blog post against California’s Proposition 8, which stipulated that only marriages between a man and woman would be recognized in the state:

“Because our company has a great diversity of people and opinions … we do not generally take a position on issues outside of our field, especially not social issues. So when Proposition 8 appeared on the California ballot, it was an unlikely question for Google to take an official company position on. However, while there are many objections to this proposition … it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality.”

If Google’s profits are any indication, the search-engine giant is doing just fine despite its political stance. But even if he were concerned about losing some users, Brin might have made the politicized statement anyway. It seems that some company heads feel so strongly about their beliefs that they are willing to risk the consequences. To make a statement that in effect says, If you disagree with me, don’t buy my chicken, Chick-fil-A’s Cathy must have felt confident enough in his brand and conservative Southern roots to risk alienating some of his clientele (though it’s worth noting there’s no evidence to suggest Chick-fil-A discriminates against gay and lesbian customers or employees).

And while the backlash against Chick-fil-A has been fierce — gay-rights groups called for a boycott, and the mayors of Boston and Chicago issued statements urging Chick-fil-A to stay out of their cities — it’s too soon to tell if Cathy’s remarks will translate to less chicken being sold. Regardless, the company has said that in the future, “our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” Now that it has entered the arena, however, it might not be so easy to leave.

MORE: Boston Mayor Blocks Chick-fil-A Franchise from City over Homophobic Attitude

Webley is a staff writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley, on Facebook or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

228 comments
MikeyAhdoot
MikeyAhdoot

Every company that has made a political statement regarding these highly debated topics such as gay marriage either has: huge balls, or firmly believes in their brand to risk losing customers (as stated in the article), or has not thought out well enough the backlash to their actions. In any case, it's debatable whether making a political statement or stance is even worth it for the company - is this a topic that companies should steer away from entirely? It depends on a case by case basis.

demersus
demersus

I don't understand why people are so fiercely angry with Chick-fil-A.  The owner was simply stating his bibilical based beliefs. Isn't he entitled to his own beliefs, just like the people who disagree with him?  It's not like his company donated money to a certain side of the argument.  (unlike Google and Starbucks).  Why is it that Google and Starbucks, who apparently support one side as a company, are not treated so poorly?   Oh, I know why...  Because if you don't have the 'pro-gay-marriage' opinion, you aren't entitled to an opinion.   This whole situation is entirely one sided.  It seems the 'pro-gay-marriage' group of people are more vehemently hostile, than the other group.  It's just ridiculous if you ask me.

2ndvote
2ndvote

Check out 2ndvote.com for more information on what organizations support.

StretchRun
StretchRun

I have an opinion on same sex marriage but I don't like having to choose not to patronize companies that I like, just because they can't just focus on business.  Businesses should avoid taking political stances wherever possible.  Both Amazon and Chick-fil-A are companies that I would like to patronize going forward.  I don't understand why they want to drive away large segments of their markets.

Amazon has great deals and Chick-fil-A has great food.  I don't think either one is getting business because of their political stances, but they sure are losing business because of it.

Yoshi_1
Yoshi_1

Why are these corporations voicing personal beliefs? Is this the latest frontier of marketing theory? Oh, wait, I forgot, corporations are "people" with individual rights just like you and me.......

MaryWaterton
MaryWaterton

5th paragraph: According to a Washington Post–ABC News poll in May, 53% of Americans say gay marriage should be legal, while 39% say gay marriage should be illegal.

The polls are FAKE. It is incredibly easy to skew polls and the liberal news media, which heavily favors "homosexual marriage", regularly uses polls to tell people what to think rather than find out what they do think. How do we know the polls are FAKE? Because so far the citizens of 31 states have voted to ban "homosexual marriage" in their state constitutions, including ultra-liberal California, though that one is still in legal limbo. Minnesota is likely to be the 32nd state to ban it. 10 more states have laws against it, but no amendment .......... yet. Bear in mind that only 38 states are required to write and ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The only states where it is legal are those where it was FORCED on their citizens by a liberal democrat activist court or legislature and not by a free vote. None of this could have happened if 53% were in favor of "homosexual marriage" and only 39% against.

Learn to spot a lie when the liberal news media tells you one. It's a valuable skill to develop.

popsright
popsright

this perversion is what makes the USA look bad.

Sean Daniel Shortwinter
Sean Daniel Shortwinter

I don't quite understand why stances are being taken by companies. It's kinda like 'big business' is deciding this issue.

the_sons_of_lot
the_sons_of_lot

 It's just another wedge issue from the ditto heads along with abortion and gun rights.

In Utah, it's always the big moral blow hard Mormon that has gay kids... Why is that? Maybe the eaters of Jesus Chicken can read Romans I again.

These are the same people that want to put Romney in office, the same Romney that presided over pro choice abortion and gay marriage in Massachusetts. Look it up on wikipedia.

It amazes me the Evangelicals want to vote a member of a cult into the White House. Mormons took a Jewish Jesus and made him into a White Nazi and they made God a man and made men Gods!

come_home
come_home

 It's just another wedge issue from the ditto heads along with abortion and gun rights.

In Utah, it's always the big moral blow hard Mormon that has gay kids... Why is that? Maybe the eaters of Jesus Chicken can read Romans I again.

These are the same people that want to put Romney in office, the same Romney that presided over pro choice abortion and gay marriage in Massachusetts. Look it up on wikipedia.

It amazes me the Evangelicals want to vote a member of a cult into the White House. Mormons took a Jewish Jesus and made him into a White Nazi and they made God a man and made men Gods!

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

In the US, equal rights is a primary issue.

Refusing marriage to one group while allowing it for another is discrimination.

Freedom of religion is also important but using that freedom to deny others equal rights is not acceptable.

In the US marriage is a legal association and religious considerations are tacked on after the fact.

Perhaps that is why there is an outcry against Chick Fil A and not Amazon.

When our self proclaimed "betters" try to force the rest of us to do what they want, we don't like it very much.

MACDONALDBANK
MACDONALDBANK

Being black, left-handed

or being gay is just as natural.  Bibles and

the torah which includes leviticus 18:22 should be immediately banned for

promoting hatred against minorities; namely the gay community and the crosses

removed from all schools and churches.

 

The evil

writings in Leviticus 18:22 against gays depict; rules for temple rituals or

“P” … Priestly Rules amp; expanded by the pope; homophobes and religious

frauds to attack the gay community and never meant to apply to the public but

to priests. Leviticus exists in the old testament amp; torah.  

 

 

"It is written; so therefore it shall be? We are the

chosen people? Such a wicked fantasy."  To see

the religious lunatics manipulate government and our lives is

shameful.   

 

It is a

sometimes rare occurrence to fall in Love and to hold that person in your heart

and be loved in return ... it is something that should be

celebrated!   If it is between two guys or girls all the

better.  It takes even more courage to defend that LOVE! 

 

How would you

like it … if hate speech was directed to your brother or sister as you sat in

the pew; spewed by some better than thou religious lunatic with a hateful black

book about Leviticus -- under his arm? 

 

The pope and churches fully aware that Leviticus 18:22 applies only to

priests; refuse to remove this stigma maliciously persecuting gays – and many kids

bullied into suicide …!   

Godzilla1960
Godzilla1960

A guy who sells chicken sandwiches doesn't support gay marriage.

So?

Craig Knows Best
Craig Knows Best

To Katie, below: the question of gay marriage isn't just a philosophical one.  It is about the human rights of LGBT individuals and their families and about conditioning those human rights on the popular vote.

Chik-Fil-A maintains, and has exercised, its freedom of speech, religion and thought. But nowhere in the Constitution is there a guarantee that exercising this right will be without consequence.  Now the public will exercise its freedom of speech--and spending--by choosing whether or not to eat Chik-Fil-A's nasty chicken.

ROMEOTRASH
ROMEOTRASH

@Dubito...you said that "beatstilaty is a behavior of consenting adults...you want that consenting adult behavior to be authorized as well?". First of all beatstilaty is not a behavior between consenting adults. It's animal cruelty. I don't see where you can make any kind of connection.

"since you claim to be an evangelical". I don't claim nothing friend. I am one. But I also believe in separation of church and state ( within reason) . And I'm willing to extend others freedoms that I don't give myself. I Belive that people are given free will to choose for themselves and with their choices they will be held accountable to God.

ROMEOTRASH
ROMEOTRASH

@Dubito

I'm not really sure where you are going with the consenting to manipulation argument. I think adults have the right to make decisions for themselves. Whether it means a choice on whom they want to be in a relationship (assuming it is another consenting adult) or what religion they want to follow. Anyone can argue that someone has been manipulated to consent the question is whether you can prove that.

ROMEOTRASH
ROMEOTRASH

@Dubito

You said that "LGBT does not equal a religion". That is true however the arguments used against it are generally religous in nature. And using a religous argument is generally unconvincing to those who don't subscribe to your religion.

You said that "LGBT is a behavior". And I am not disagreeing with you here. However fornication is also a behavior. Divorce is also a behavior. I think that both are sins. Yet both are legal in our country.

You questioned "You are an evangelical and you think that God condones such behavior". I never said such a thing. Nor do I condone it. I believe the Bible when it comes to these things. Yet many people don't believe what I believe and since we don't live in a theocracy (as they did in Leviticus) I don't necesarily belive my convictions should be the law of the land for everyone el

ROMEOTRASH
ROMEOTRASH

@Dubito

You said that "LGBT does not equal a religion". That is true however the arguments used against it are generally religous in nature. And using a religous argument is generally unconvincing to those who don't subscribe to your religion.

You said that "LGBT is a behavior". And I would agree with you. However pre-marital sex and divorce which I also believe are wrong are legal in this country. I don't condone either. But it would seem silly to enforce laws in the society that we live in that would make these free choices illegal.

You questioned "You are an evangelical and you think that God condones such behavior". I never said such a thing. Nor do I condone it. I believe the Bible when it comes to these things. Yet many people don't believe what I believe and since we don't live in a theocracy (as they did in Leviticus) I don't necesarily belive my convictions should be the law of the land for everyone else.

MikeyAhdoot
MikeyAhdoot

@Yoshi_1 They're taking a huge risk in doing so, no doubt about it. They just feel so strongly about that particular belief that they want to publicize it and have a certain stigma / image be apparent to the public about their businesses.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Actually, it is perfectly reasonable that the "polls" could be legitimate.

Possibly it is only that those people who are determined to censure the people they disapprove of are more highly motivated to vote to keep them from having equal rights.

You can live in denial of the polls, like you do so many other things, but the reality is that you are just determined that you know what is best and that it is your duty to shove it down everyone else's throat.

Christianity is supposed to be about tolerance, not intolerance.

Alley Oop
Alley Oop

after "citizens united," it seems big buisness gets to decide every issue.

demersus
demersus

@Gary McCray  Nobody is preventing anyone from getting married.  All people have the right to be married.  What is being disputed is whether marriage, a religious idea, should be redefined by the state.  Marriage, being a religious idea, was meant for the joining of people of opposite sex.  If someone wants to follow this definition, they may be married.


Now, if the state wants to call it something else.  Such as civil-union, and not force religious groups to perform a civil union, then there will probably be much less opposition and controversy.   The problem is the redefinition of the idea or word.  Not the rights of the citizens.

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 Evidently, American public support for gay marriage is so strong, so solid, and so unstoppable, that liberals feel threatened when a chicken sandwich shop opposes them. lol

demersus
demersus

@Gary McCray That is a tricky statement.  Jesus never taught us to tolerate sin.  He did teach us not to judge other people, before judging ourselves.  (take the log out of your own eye, before helping your friend remove the spec from theirs)

However, the 2nd part of that statement is to help your friend remove their spec.  This should be done in a humble way, keeping in mind how much sin is in your own life. Therefore treat other people as fellow God-created individuals with equal value.

It is very easy to spot how damaging homosexual evangelism is damaging to our families, and society.  Children are being taught about things they shouldn't have to know about at such an early age, because there are LGBT groups who want to push their agenda.  No grade school age child should forced to learn the details of sexual orientation.  They are just too young.  This is happening all over the place in our public schools.