In November, Minnesota voters will respond to a legislative constitutional amendment proposal (from Ballotpedia):
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?While the amendment is supported by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, it is opposed by individual churches and synagogues and groups of varying faiths. Also, while the Republican Party of Minnesota has not officially endorsed the measure, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is outspoken in its opposition.
In addition to faith and political groups, corporations are now raising their voices on this issue. On Wednesday, June 15, General Mills Chief Executive Office John Taft told a group of gay and lesbian professionals that General Mills "do[es] not believe the proposed constitutional amendment is in the best interests of our employees or our state economy." (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) Within four days, the always excellent Jeremy Hooper had predicted that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) would be ready to lead a boycott against General Mills. The evidence? On June 16, NOM purchased the domain name dumpgeneralmills dot com. (No free links for you, NOM!)
Right on cue, yesterday afternoon (June 25), NOM announced their petition and boycott threat at their blog.
I never thought that by eating Cheerios for breakfast I would be supporting gay marriage. Your decision to pander to same-sex marriage activists has forced me to choose between your food products and my conscience. As long as food is produced by other companies my conscience is going to win out over the desire for another bowl of Lucky Charms.
It’s not the role of corporate management to unilaterally endorse a controversial political issue unrelated to a company’s core business – particularly when doing so will alienate a large percentage of customers, employees and shareholders.If you ponder this second statement for a moment, its tenuous nature becomes apparent. There is no way that NOM would object to a Minnesota-based company, especially one of those revered small businesses, unilaterally deciding to endorse their side of this controversial issue. This is from the same group who has such a laser-like focus on the protection of marriage that they devoted $1 million to "develop side issues to weaken pro-gay marriage political leaders and parties," side issues like "pornography", and who sought to "drive a wedge" between gays and blacks.
But that's not the most important inconsistency here. So let us back up a few paces and take this one step at a time.
On August 11, 2011, while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair, Mitt Romney asserted, "Corporations are people, my friend." And on April 11, 2012, NOM endorsed Romney for president. This was not a terrible shock, especially in light of the Huffington Post's exposure of a $10,000 donation from Romney's PAC to support Proposition 8 overturning marriage equality in California.
So, General Mills is a person. That means his actions are protected by the Bill of Rights, particularly the freedoms of the First Amendment. As a person, he is free to speak his mind without interference from the government. But many conservative voices do not stop there. After being roundly criticized for her use of an ethnic slur to describe African-Americans, conservative talker Laura Schlessinger told Larry King that she was giving up her show because "I want to regain my First Amendment rights." In the midst of his Sandra Fluke scandal, Rush Limbaugh agreed with an advertiser that boycotting businesses who support speech you oppose is economic "terrorist activity." The Whiner from Wasilla herself, Sarah Palin, seems to reflect many conservative voices when she avers that any action that criticizes her opinions is an infringement of her First Amendment rights.
Let's get Salon's Glenn Greenwald in here to explain:
The First Amendment is actually not that complicated. It can be read from start to finish in about 10 seconds. It bars the Government from abridging free speech rights. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re free to say things without being criticized, or whether you can comment on blogs without being edited, or whether people can bar you from their private planes because they don’t like what you’ve said.Now that we have sorted all that out, let's return to the next steps for conservatives. If they truly believe in their espoused First Amendment and business principles (a mammoth assumption), then they must oppose boycotts or else the terrorists will win. General Mills is free to say what he wants, and to spend his money how he wants; he is a person, after all. [And by the way, if you would like to participate in an anti-boycott of General Mills, the NOM blog posting has an excellent listing of what you should buy.]
Further, conservatives must recognize that boycotts are stupid. Martin Luther King believed that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." Despite a few steps forward and a few steps back through history, the long view of equality and civil rights is that they inexorably move towards expansion, not contraction. As more and more companies expand rights for LGBT employees and speak out on issues of equality, NOM and conservatives are going to find themselves on the losing end of more boycotts like their efforts against Starbucks (45,000 against Starbucks' stand on equality versus 640,000 in favor of it). If conservatives are so hell-bent on breaking their own rules regarding economic terrorism, why haven't they taken on boycotts of Apple, six-figure opponents of Proposition 8, or Microsoft's support of marriage equality in Washington?
Because the natural progression of such short-sighted bigotry is nakedness, hunger, and no access to the Internet.