Ten t-shirts for sale on Target's retail website, featuring slogans like "Harmony," "Pride" and "Love is Love," are causing some disharmony: They're being sold as a fundraiser supporting a marriage equality group.
And even though the company has not taken an official position on the November ballot question that seeks to define marriage in the state constitution as only between one man and one woman, amendment backers are using the retailer's action as a way to motivate their own supporters.
"It's really kind of a slap in the face to people of faith and supporters of marriage," said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Minnesota for Marriage. Same-sex marriage opponents "constitute a large majority of people of Minnesota and an overwhelming majority of Target's customers," he says, and he's upset that the company "would intentionally inject themselves into the marriage campaign."
Target has long been a sponsor of gay Pride events held in June. Through the month, Target will donate 100 percent of the purchase price of the T-shirts, up to $120,000 to the Family Equality Council. The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents and their children. It's part of the coalition aiming to defeat the same-sex amendment in Minnesota.
Last week, Minnesota for Marriage sent an email to supporters, criticizing corporations supporting "genderless marriages here in Minnesota" and asked for contributions to protect traditional marriage. Schubert says that email ended up being their largest fundraising email to date.
"People are upset about it, and they're responding, and we encourage people to let Target know that they're upset," he said. "It was a stupid move on their part and we're going to hold them to account for it."
Target declined to make anyone available for an interview, but in a written statement, the company said:
"Target supports inclusivity and diversity in every aspect of our business and has a long history of supporting the LGBT community through giving, volunteerism and event sponsorship and participation. Target is pleased to be able to bring our guests products they want while, in turn, helping support the LGBT community through the donation of 100 percent of the purchase price to the Family Equality Council."
In 2010, Target came under fire from gay rights groups, after the company contributed $150,000 to a group that ran an ad in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes same-sex marriage.
The marriage debate can be tricky for businesses because they may have customers and employees on both sides of the issue.
John Taft is the CEO of RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis. As an individual, he was an early voice against the marriage amendment in Minnesota, making the case that its passage would be bad for businesses looking to recruit top talent to the state. His company takes no position on issues outside the field of finance.
Taft sees Target's t-shirt promotion as something consistent with the company's reputation for community involvement.
"I think they deserve to be complimented on their long-standing record of supporting human rights policies and organizations in the community that are all about diversity and equality," he said. "If this is something they choose to do, that's their decision and I support it."
As a member of the steering committee for Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group opposing the amendment, Taft is having lots of conversations with corporate leaders about the ballot question. He says Minnesota's business culture doesn't favor drawing companies into political issues.
"In Minnesota, I would expect you'd see corporations, as legal entities, really stay out of the campaign, just that seems to be the preference on the part of business leaders," he said. "But I think you will see business leaders themselves personally -- and we already have -- declare positions on one side or another of the issue and that I think that is totally appropriate."
Schubert, the campaign manager for Minnesota for Marriage, recently worked to pass an amendment blocking same sex marriage in North Carolina. He hopes Minnesota businesses will follow the example of major North Carolina corporations that stayed silent on the issue.