Microsoft founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer have each donated $100,000 to the effort to keep gay marriage legal. Ken Powell, CEO of food behemoth General Mills, has publicly spoken out against Minnesota’s proposed amendment that would ban gay marriage. And Paul Singer, founder of financial firm Elliott Management, recently contributed $150,000 to Freedom to Marry, which fights for gay marriage across the nation.
In an opposite corner is Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy, who recently told Baptist Press that Chick-fil-A is “very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”
Cathy’s perceived anti-gay marriage statements renewed the nation’s debate on this hot-button topic.
The CEO of the Jim Henson Company responded. The company, which had a licensing agreement to supply toys for Chick-fil-A’s kids’ meals, said it will not partner with them on any future endeavors.
“Lisa Henson, our CEO, is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation),” it said in a written statement.
In the case of Chick-fil-A, it’s not just executives weighing in. Politicians are getting involved too.
On Thursday, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee tweeted that he is “very disappointed (Chick-fil-A) doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.”
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also have criticized the private company.
Yet there are also many who support Chick-fil-A and Cathy.
For example, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he’s “incensed” by the negative feedback, and in turn has deemed Aug. 1 “Chick fil-A Appreciation Day,” when he’s asking consumers to support the chain by eating there.
Chick-fil-A didn’t respond directly when asked for a comment on Cathy’s statements but issued its own statement that said in part: “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”
In the Baptist Press interview, Cathy said his stance against same-sex marriage “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 principles.”
While companies and their employees are free to openly share their feelings on highly polarizing matters such as gay marriage, such statements from top executives can affect the brand image, say marketing experts.