Big Business Silent on NC Gay Marriage Amendment
As a gay man who believes America’s strength comes from its diversity, Stephen Dull is opposed to North Carolina carving the existing ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.
Dull is one of a handful of corporate executives who have publicly voiced an opinion on the amendment voters will decide May 8. The corporations have been silent.
Dull is the vice president for strategy and innovation at Greensboro-based VF Corp., the parent company of clothing brands including The North Face, Nautica and Lee jeans. His corporation and others in North Carolina’s influential business establishment haven’t taken a public stand on the amendment, a contrast to Starbucks and Microsoft, whose support helped sway lawmakers in Washington state before gay marriage was approved there in February.
North Carolina’s chamber of commerce hasn’t heard much from its members on the amendment and is staying neutral, CEO Lew Ebert said. Corporate neutrality is the aim of the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C., group fighting against gay marriage as North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland and Maine head toward ballot measures this year. Washington state’s gay marriage law could be put on hold by a referendum effort that would leave the decision to voters.
The statewide organization leading support of the amendment sent letters to the state and local chamber chapters. "We were requesting neutrality," said Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC.
Business leaders who support the amendment have stayed silent for fear of becoming targets of boycotts and public attacks, Fitzgerald and other supporters said.
"It’s not a business issue and the problem of a business leader speaking out in favor of it is that they get a boatload of hate mail and harassment. That also happens to politicians, but we’re paid to do that," said House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, one of the amendment’s key legislative backers.
Stam and Fitzgerald dispute that passing the amendment and solidifying the prohibitions against gay marriage would lead some companies to rethink their North Carolina presence.
"It’s certainly not hurting business development for South Carolina and Virginia. We’re constantly competing with those two states for business development," Fitzgerald said.
It’s clear even companies that place a high priority on diversity don’t really have other options if they want to be in the growing, union-limited Sun Belt.