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Editor's column: Gay marriage: None of their business

When it comes to social issues, corporate should keep its arms open and its mouth shut

June 23, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

A number of Minnesota's largest corporations have chosen not to take a for-or-against position on the gay marriage issue in Minnesota.

Too bad we can't say that about all of them.

General Mills has come under fire from the public for speaking out, as a corporation, against the proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would add a ban on same-sex marriages.

"We believe it is important for Minnesota to be viewed as inclusive and welcoming as well," General Mills stated. "We oppose the proposed constitutional amendment because we do not believe it is in the best interests of our employees or our state economy."

General Mills, you had me at "We believe it is important for Minnesota to be viewed as inclusive and welcoming as well." You should've stopped there.

The measure that will be on ballot in November would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman in the state.

Many corporations are staying out of it while trying to say the right thing. They're dancing around the subject while not totally avoiding it. Oftentimes, that's a dance that's frowned upon by the general population because transparency questions usually surface. But this is one occasion where it would be nice to see a full dance floor.

Best Buy said, "We remain strongly committed to LGBT workplace equality."

Cargill: "While we are not taking a public position on the Minnesota same-sex marriage Constitutional amendment at this time, it is important to underscore that Cargill nurtures an open and respectful workplace."

CHS: "CHS does not take positions on issues that do not directly affect its business operations. As always, we encourage our employees to exercise their rights as citizens to vote on public offices and issues on the ballot in their home communities."

Ameriprise Financial: "We have not taken a public position on this matter, as it is a state issue that does not directly pertain to our business."

These corporations rightfully said just enough to keep them off the map of controversy. They said the right things and came across as neutral, if nothing else. They're Switzerland with lots of windows and big parking lots.

CHS and Ameriprise may have said it best. The gay marriage issue is one that doesn't affect their operations or business. Enough said.

Same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, a social issue, and General Mills took a poorly-thought out risk when it crossed that line. This is one issue where corporations are best served erring on the side of ambiguousness. Just leave it alone. Same goes for politics. Why even bother? How did Target benefit in 2010 when it donated $150,000 to a PAC for advertising for anti-gay marriage gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer? It didn't. In fact, the head of Target Corp. later apologized for the decision.

I hear asparagus and red wine go well with crow.

Target is already identified by a bull's eye, it didn't need a bigger one on its back. And what about the poor employees of these corporations that blurt out an endorsement or pronounce their opposition to an issue? Certainly they have their own individual beliefs. Wake up, corporate, these are human beings you employee. Probably best not to speak for them and put them in a position where they have to answer for you.

Say I'm a General Mills employee and I'm all for the amendment, maybe even in a big way, do I feel morally obligated to speak out? Do I complain or protest at the risk of losing my job? Do I quit? Corporate needs to look out for its employees, not put undue pressure on them and make them feel compelled to suppress their own morals and beliefs for the sake of a paycheck.

Businesses and society are intertwined, to a point - they have to be. But big business and social issues shouldn't mix. When it comes to such a sensitive and deeply personal issue, one so divisive, big business needs to mind its own business.



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