(RNS) A number of high-profile business executives have come out on the issue of gay marriage.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is the latest to say “I do” to supporting same-sex unions. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Ken Powell, CEO of General Mills, have both publicly supported gay marriage.
In an opposite corner is Chick-fil-A 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.
San Francisco mayor Edwin Lee tweeted that he is “very disappointed (Chick-fil-A) doesn’t share San Francisco’s values and strong commitment to equality for everyone.”
Boston mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel also have criticized the private company.
However, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said he’s “incensed” by the negative feedback, and in turn has deemed August 1 “Chick fil-A Appreciation Day,” when he’s asking consumers to support the chain by eating there.
Asked for comment on Cathy’s statements, the company 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 . . . 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.”
Chick-fil-A’s reputation took a hit on the YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks consumer sentiment on 1,100 brands on a daily basis.
Before Cathy’s statements, it ranked high with consumers. As the controversy expanded, the company’s brand health has deteriorated.
In turn, that is likely to affect sales, said BrandIndex managing director Ted Marzilli.
“Some consumers might be very supportive of the brand or (Cathy’s) position, but when we look at overall consumers . . . this is going to have an impact,” he said.
Gay marriage is a “political hot potato,” he says, and executives “should be careful about dipping into the political waters.”
J.C. Penney felt backlash when it hired openly gay Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman early this year.
But despite criticism from conservative activist groups, the retailer stood by its decision and took it a step further by featuring same-sex parents in its promotions.
Adding more pressure to the corporate office is this reality: Any executive statement or action that is remotely controversial can spread to millions in seconds via social media.
For its part, Chick-fil-A is using social media to get its messages out as well. It didn’t directly address the company stance on gay marriage, but last week it let its Facebook fans know that they are going to try to step out of the spotlight on the issue.
“Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena,” it said.