The National Organization for Marriage believes that “Starbucks has deeply offended at least half its US customers, and the vast majority of its international customers” by helping to legalize gay marriage. NOM further states that “Starbucks has declared a culture war on all people of faith (and millions of others) who believe that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman is worth preserving.”
Last August, NOM championed presidential hopefuls Bachman, Romney, and Santorum for their support of NOM’s ‘marriage pledge,’ which seeks to define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. The pledge also endorses political support for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well as the intention to ‘appoint judges and an attorney general who will respect the original meaning of the Constitution’ and ‘appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters.’ On its website, NOM goes further, giving ‘talking points’ such as ‘this allows people to express support for tolerance while opposing gay marriage.’ Further down the page, however, NOM defines marriage in this way: ‘Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers.’ If I may say so, the ethos of NOM seems to be anything but tolerant.
It seems that Starbuck’s ethos is rooted in its opposition to this neocon thinking, a Dude, say, rather than a Walter Sobchak. Earlier this year, the corporation supported a marriage equality bill in its home state of Washington. On its “Working at Starbucks” page, it lists domestic partner benefits as a possible part of an employee’s total pay package. Further on down the page is the compelling comment: “we expect our partners to act with a spirit of kinship, tolerance, and humanity towards all customers.” This stance is echoed in its treatment of its workers; in a statement to the Seattle Times, Executive Vice President Kalen Holmes stated, “We… remain committed to providing an inclusive, supportive and safe work environment for all of our partners… we are proud of our Pride Alliance Partner Network group, which is one of the largest Employer Resource Groups for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees in the U.S., helping to raise awareness about issues in the communities where we live and work.”
This support for gay marriage is a good thing, according to customers. Many have signed a thank-you card created by the group SumOfUs in response to the National Organization for Marriage’s “Dump Starbucks” boycott. The group originally aspired to 40,000 signatures in support of the coffee giant, who ‘stuck its neck out to publically support the right of all people to marry.’ While it seems odd that SumOfUs, which states its mission as ‘a movement of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking with one voice to counterbalance the growing power of large corporations, would speak out in support of Starbucks, the group explains it in this way: “it’s a big deal when a giant multinational corporation with no particular connection to the gay community realizes that there are real business benefits — from better employees to happier customers — to standing up for progressive ideals… we can’t just criticize corporations when they do bad. We also want to encourage them when they do good.”
NOM’s petition has gotten only 19,000 signatures since its inception five days ago; in contrast, the Thank-you, Starbucks!” card has been signed by nearly a quarter of a million individuals. This is simply one sign that marriage equality is increasingly favored by the majority of Americans. It is also a sign of America’s increasing comfort level with diversity; as is true for any equality movement, many supporters of marriage equality are not affected personally affected one way or another — they just feel that the option should be open for people to choose.
Starbucks has had the courage to speak out for what it considers right rather than to keep silent and offer benefits to employees. It’s a rare business that will do that. In supporting Starbucks, SumOfUs has done the same; they have publically acknowledged that appropriate action is more important than towing the bottom line. Sometimes, doing the right thing is more important than public approbation. While it is nice to know that the public supported both so overwhelmingly, it is nicer to realize that both spoke out without knowing the outcome.