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Less Evolved Companies: Five Firms on the Other Side of the Gay Rights Movement

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If there are anti-gay people in the world, by the law of the free market, there will also be anti-gay companies.

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[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in Wal-Mart's nondiscrimination policy, which has included gender identity and gender expression protections since the fall of 2011.]

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL President Obama made history yesterday by becoming the first-ever sitting president to declare his support for same-sex marriage.

The president's groundbreaking announcement immediately overshadowed a related news item from the day before, when North Carolina voters approved an amendment that would ban gay marriages.

In fact, since 1998, gay marriage initiatives have been brought up for voting 32 times; every time, Americans have voted to prohibit it, even in ostensibly "blue" states like California and Oregon.

The reality is that even though approval of same-sex marriage has risen dramatically in the past decade, there is still a sizable portion of the population that does not approve of equal rights for gays and lesbians.

The idea of the free market is a much-cherished national notion. If there is a market to tap, you can bet that businesses will be all over it immediately. And since many Americans are still socially conservative, it does not come as a surprise that many companies are as well. Here, Minyanville highlights five companies that members of groups like One Million Moms would probably be more than happy to support.

Exxon Mobil (XOM)
Before the merger of Exxon and Mobil, Mobil was actually one of the most progressive Fortune 500 companies, having included sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy and providing partner health benefits. Then, the two titans merged in 1999, and the rights and benefits once offered to Mobil employees were taken away. Every year since, shareholders have attempted to get sexual orientation added back to the company's nondiscrimination policy, but to no avail.

Typically, the company lets the resolution be introduced at its annual meeting, recommends a no vote and lets shareholders shoot it down. This year, however, the company has chosen to go to the SEC to try to prevent it from getting to the table.

Exxon Mobil argued to the regulatory agency that it does have a statement in its Employee Policies and Practices page that states that it will not tolerate any form of discrimination, included those based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, the SEC denied Exxon Mobil's request to have the resolution blocked, ruling, "Based on the information you have presented, it appears that Exxon Mobil's policies, practices, and procedures do not compare favorably with the guidelines of the proposal and that Exxon Mobil has not, therefore, substantially implemented the proposal." The resolution will now be voted upon at the company's May 30 shareholder meeting.

Exxon Mobil, the second largest company by market capitalization -- behind only Apple (AAPL) -- has also consistently gotten a score of zero in the Human Rights Campaign's (or HRC) annual Corporate Equality Index, which measures the level of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in American workplaces. In 2012, for the first time, it actually received a negative score.

Urban Outfitters (URBN)
Behind Urban Outfitter's ostensibly trendy, liberal image lies a conservative core. Founder and CEO of the company, Richard Hayne, made headlines last year when it was revealed that he had donated over $13,000 to Rick Santorum back when he was a senator in Pennsylvania. The kicker? Haynes initially denied he ever made those donations until he was presented with evidence, to which he said: "I'll have to look into this. I don't think this is right."

Former tween queen Miley Cyrus, who has been open about her support of equal rights for gays, has publicly blasted Haynes, and said she would boycott the store:
"I was shocked and disappointed that a company with such diversity would exclude such a large group of people...I can no longer bring myself to shop there...I believe every American should be allowed the same rights and civil liberties. Without legalized same-sex marriage, most of the time you cannot share the same health benefits, you are not considered next of kin and you are not granted the same securities as a heterosexual couple. How is this different than having someone sit in the back of the bus because of their skin color?"

Because of the type of clientele it attracts (likely younger, gay-friendly folks), Urban Outfitters is seemingly always caught in an awkward standoff between appealing to its core demographic and its CEO's personal beliefs. Case in point: After Prop 8 passed in California in 2008, the company swiftly put out a "I Support Same-Sex Marriage" T-shirt. Not long after though, the T-shirt was mysteriously pulled off Urban's shelves. After meeting with consumer outcry, a company spokesperson clarified that that the T-shirt was pulled because of low sales.

Wal-Mart (WMT)
Wal-Mart joins Exxon Mobil as one of the least gay-friendly Fortune 500 companies, having received a low score of 40 in the latest HRC Corporate Equality Index. One reason for the low score is that employees of the company do not get domestic partner benefits, except in states where they are legally required.

Also, in 2010, the big box retailer angered progressives when it sold a book titled Chased by an Elephant, the Gospel Truth About Today's Stampeding Sexuality, by Janice Barrett Graham, the wife of Stephen Graham, who is the leader of the Standard of Liberty "pray the gay away" group. The book, aimed at parents and children, argues that homosexuals can leave their sinful ways and go back to heterosexuality. Given that the book was by no means a bestseller, that Wal-Mart, which usually stocks popular mainstream titles, chose to carry it could be an indicator that it is throwing its weight behind those against gay rights. The retailer also does not carry LGBT titles.

Additionally, CEO Mike Duke also got into controversy when it was revealed that in 2008, he signed a petition supporting the banning of gay adoption in Arkansas.

In a better-late-than-never move, however, Wal-Mart added gender identity to its employment nondiscrimination policy around September 2011, ensuring that it will likely get a better score for next year's HRC Corporate Equality Index.


Chick-fil-A
S. Truett Cathy, founder of the popular chicken sandwich maker, is a devout Christian and his beliefs are reflected in how the private company operates. All Chick-fil-A restaurants close on Sundays, and the company also donates generously to community service organizations.

Not every community group can expect a generous donation from Cathy, of course. Late last year, the advocacy group Equality Matters looked into the company's charitable givings and discovered that a large portion of it went to organizations noted for their anti-gay beliefs.

In 2009, for example, through its charitable arm, the Winshape Foundation, Chick-fil-A donated over $1.7 million to groups like the Family Research Council, Focus on the the Family, Eagle Forum, and leading "pray the gay away" group Exodus International.

After news broke of where Chick-fil-A's charitable donations were going, students at schools like Northeastern University and New York University protested the chain's presence in their campuses. The administration at Northeastern eventually scrapped plans to bring a Chick-fil-A to its campus.

In response, Chick-fil-A vice-president Donald Perry published a letter in the Boston Globe, in which he explained:
"As some have looked back at the public giving records of the WinShape Foundation, they have unfortunately misinterpreted this support as having a political agenda, largely referencing any religious or faith-based giving as 'anti-gay.' For example, if you take the example of FCA, and ask us what was the purpose of the giving, it was to support inter-city mentors and chaplains for schools and colleges primarily here metro Atlanta. Those monies have been labeled as 'anti-gay' because of the affiliation with a faith-based organization."

Cinemark (CNK)
The 2008 landmark Proposition 8 battle in California can be viewed as a line-in-the-sand, either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us moment. With record amounts of money raised, Prop 8 was the 2008 elections' cause célèbre on both sides of the fence, with every business intensely scrutinized for where they stood.

One business that witnessed a backlash in the wake of Prop 8 was Cinemark, the third largest chain in the US behind Regal (RGC) and AMC, because CEO Alan Stock, who is Mormon, donated $9,999 to the 'Yes on 8' campaign.

In respond, same-sex marriage-supporting activists launched a campaign to boycott Cinemark, calling for cinema-goers to catch the Gus Van Sant-directed film Milk, in which Sean Penn won an Oscar playing influential gay rights leader Harvey Milk, at other theaters instead.

Responding to the controversy, Cinemark pointed out that the company had not taken out a position either way, that Stock's contribution was an entirely unrelated personal one.

(See also: Highly Evolved: Public Companies That Were Already Supporting Gay Rights.)

Twitter: @sterlingwong
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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