Amid the boisterous fallout over the president of Chick-fil-A’s comments against gay marriage comes another business leader taking a very different stand on the controversial issue. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has donated $2.5 million to help pass a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington state. Same-sex marriage was legalized in the state in February, but opponents got enough signatures to put the law in front of voters.
It’s too early to tell whether Bezos’ massive gift will have repercussions with customers who are opponents of the issue. Will they stop ordering books and toys from the world’s largest online retailer, as some customers have threatened to do with Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches? Will groups against gay marriage protest the company’s decision, as they did when Starbucks spoke out on its position? Will Mike Huckabee start a “Boycott Amazon.com Day”? Who knows.
What we do know is that Bezos’ gift is yet another sign that business leaders seem increasingly less concerned about wading into this hot-button political issue. The same CEOs who seem reticent to speak out on immigration topics or become activists for health-care reform, no matter how much either one may help their bottom line, are increasingly willing to take a stand on same-sex marriage.
Remember when Lloyd Blankfein took part in the Human Rights Campaign’s “marriage equality” video in February? In doing so, the Goldman Sachs CEO became the first major business leader to join a national media campaign in support of same-sex marriage, according to Reuters. He’s not alone: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has also given $100,000 to help the referendum in Washington, and executives at companies ranging from Xerox to PG&E have publicly supported efforts to make same-sex marriage possible in their home states.
Why the sudden willingness to speak out about the political football? Many simply see it as good business to be inclusive. While they may lose some clients or customers, they’re wary about their states not being able to attract the best and brightest talent. As Eli Lilly’s head of human resources has written, “we are concerned that the proposed legislation sends an unwelcoming signal to current and future employees by making Indiana appear intolerant.”
Chick-fil-A, for its part, has said it will now back out of the debate after falling into it head-first. “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” the company said in a statement last week. But my guess is this won’t be the last thing Chick-fil-A says about this issue, and that neither Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy nor Bezos will be the last company leader to take a personal or corporate stand on the matter. Increasingly, consumers want to buy products from companies that share their values and work for employers that do, too. While corporate leaders may have a lot to learn from Chick-fil-A’s P.R. mess, my guess is they won’t be able to stay out of the debate, either.
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