The Same-Sex Marriage Debate: Do you have a dog in this fight?

7/13/12

Corporate Social Responsibility certainly entails having corporations provide resources that promote the social good, whether that be through philanthropy, volunteering programs, or simply providing resources to meet some community's need. However, occasionally an issue emerges where the proper role for corporations may require discretion before jumping in. The most recent issue of this kind is the public policy regarding same sex marriage because it pits two social movements against one another in an area where their interests are mutually exclusive.

Four states (Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota) have ballot measures this year regarding same-sex marriage. On one side are the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) groups supporting same-sex marriage as a civil right. These groups threaten companies that provide support to the same-sex marriage opposition groups with boycotts and negative publicity campaigns. On the other side are the opponents of same-sex marriage, such as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which similarly threaten companies who provide support for the same-sex marriage advocacy groups. In addition to their moral objections (given that the major orthodox religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam consider homosexuality wrong) these groups fear that legalizing same-sex marriage will result in profound restrictions in religious freedom (see the HHS birth control mandate as an initial example). In fact, NOM has already begun organizing boycotts against Starbucks and General Mills for their support of same-sex marriage legislation (or opposition to legislation banning same-sex marriage) in Washington and Minnesota, respectively.

This creates a dilemma for companies in that if they choose a side, they do so at the risk of alienating the other side. Certainly companies have been reasonably successful at creating inclusive internal environments where GLBT and people of faith can work together, and without major opposition from either side. But when the debate enters the public policy arena, it may be wise to determine whether or not your company has a dog in this fight. Choosing a side in this debate risks alienating a huge number of potential customers, so firms do so at their own peril.