MSN MONEY – Big companies take up gay rights cause

Big companies take up gay rights cause
Corporate backers make a business decision to take on the Defense of Marriage Act and the Boy Scouts’ ban.
By Jason Notte 5 hours ago

When marches, petitions and ballot initiatives don’t make those in power listen, money usually does the trick.

Supporters of gay marriage reached this conclusion recently and have lined up some deep-pocketed corporate friends to help them repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that states marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. The Human Rights Campaign launched its Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal earlier this week and has been able to recruit 13 businesses to join its cause.

The coalition’s bigger backers include Aetna (AET -1.53%), Biogen Idec (BIIB +0.75%), Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMY +0.22%), Diageo (DEO -0.66%), EBay (EBAY +0.22%), Electronic Arts (ERTS), Sun Life Financial (SLF +0.24%) and Marriott (MAR -0.17%). That last company is perhaps the biggest coup, as the Los Angeles Times points out that it was founded by Mormons. The Mormon church is officially against gay marriage and went to great lengths to support California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage back in 2008.

Though CEO Bill Marriott, son of founder John William Marriott, told Bloomberg Businessweek last year that he’s personally against gay marriage, but is reluctant to impose those views on his business. As a result, Marriott stayed out of the Proposition 8 debate and continued to invite gay couples to use its hotels for weddings and commitment ceremonies. Marriott reconciled his personal and business views on gay marriage as follows:

“Our church is very much opposed to alcohol and we’re probably one of the biggest sales engines of liquor in the United States. I don’t drink. We serve a lot of liquor. You’re in business. You’ve got to make money. We have to appeal to the masses out there, no matter what their beliefs are.”

Loosely translated, money from gay customers and straight customers is equal in value. While fast-food chain Chick-fil-A vocally disagreed with this stance last year, other companies are quickly taking the Marriott approach to the gay rights movement. Back in September, Intel (INTC +0.42%) told ThinkProgress that it would no longer donate to Boy Scouts of America troops that discriminated against gay scouts. That’s no small deal, considering the $700,000 it gave scout troops in 2010 made the company one of the Boy Scouts’ biggest donors.

In November, UPS (UPS -1.19%) took Intel’s lead and responded to a petition by withdrawing its support from the Boy Scouts, which the company says is in violation of its charitable wing’s anti-discrimination policies. UPS gave the scouts $150,000 in 2010, which is a fraction of Intel’s contribution but still sorely missed when it’s reduced to $0. Not surprisingly, The New York Times announced Tuesday that the Boy Scouts were seriously rethinking their ban on openly gay scouts and scout leaders.

It’s still uncertain whether any of this will influence the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of the Defense of Marriage Act or the continued push for the alternate Respect For Marriage Act and extend more than 1,000 federal benefits to married same-sex couples. However, whenever companies like Google (GOOG +0.02%), Hyatt (H -0.72%), Exelon (EXC -0.26%) and Orbitz (OWW -4.11%) put their cash behind gay rights — as they did by signing an open letter to Illinois lawmakers voicing their support for gay marriage in that state — revenue-minded politicians and voters tend to listen.