Mayhem Over Marriage

Local corporations take a stand in the costly fight over the upcoming marriage vote.

By Jacob Wheeler

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This November, Minnesotans will vote on two constitutional amendments put on the ballot by the Republican-led state House and Senate after the party seized control of the legislature in 2010. One, the marriage amendment that would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage (though gay marriage is currently not legal in Minnesota); the other, a Voter Photo ID amendment that would require Minnesotans to bring state-issued voter identification with them to the polls.

The marriage amendment in particular has unleashed a contentious and public fight - in the state capitol, in family dining rooms and on the airwaves. The heated campaign has also forced each side to raise millions of dollars and court allies in both the public and private sectors. To date Minnesotans United for all Families, the largest group in a coalition opposed to the amendment, raised nearly $5.4 million; Minnesota for Marriage, the amendment's main backer, raised nearly $1.5 million.

Major corporations, too, have joined the fight. On June 14, Golden Valley-based Fortune 500 Company General Mills publicly voiced its opposition to the marriage amendment, saying that remaining neutral on the issue was not in Minnesota's best interest. "I am proud to see our company join the ranks of local and national employers speaking out for inclusion," says CEO Ken Powell. "We do not believe the proposed constitutional amendment is in the best interests of our employees or our state economy – and as a Minnesota-based company we oppose it." Another Minnesota company, Thomson Reuters, also spoke out against the marriage amendment, joining General Mills as well as St. Jude Medical, which declared its opposition last year.

In doing so, those corporations thrust themselves into the political spotlight. Minnesota for Marriage organized a protest in late June on the lawn in front of General Mills' headquarters. Supporters of the marriage amendment symbolically "dumped" Cheerios, Betty Crocker cake mixes and Progresso soups (before donating the items to a nearby food shelf ). Chuck Darrell, campaign director for Minnesota for Marriage, voiced his disappointment that General Mills spends billions on marketing to families only to turn around and support a cause that he claims is destructive to families.

At the Minneapolis Gay Pride Parade on June 24, corporations were represented in droves, as their logos graced floats, t-shirts and banners. Those companies-many of whom haven't taken an official public stance on the marriage amendment-included Orbitz, Target, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Macy's, UPS, Cub Foods and Delta Airlines.

"It's been over 30 years since I first took part in a pride parade, and to see the increase in the number of people participating, to see the corporate community and others who weren't involved back then become fully involved now is really uplifting," says Governor Mark Dayton, who also marched in the parade.

But do corporations play with fire when they thrust themselves into a contentious political debate? This year, General Mills drew the wrath of protestors. Two years ago, it was Target that faced a boycott from the left for contributing to MN Forward, which ran advertisements on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.