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Target CEO says retailer will stay out of marriage debate

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Target protest
Jacob Reitan (left), Randi Retan (middle) and Philip Reitan (right) share their concerns with Target representatives while helping deliver boxes containing a petition and 240,000 signatures of people that plan to boycott the retail giant in August 2010.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The CEO of Minneapolis-based Target Corporation said the retailer will stay out of the political debate about same sex marriage. 

"We are going to be neutral on that particular issue as we would be on other social issues that have polarizing points of view," CEO Gregg Steinhafel said Wednesday in response to a question at an annual shareholders' meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Concerns about Target's political donations dominated the meeting's question and answer session. Several shareholders focused on the company's $150,000 donation last year to MN Forward, a conservative group that supported gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. 

The contribution sparked a backlash from Democrats and gay rights groups. Emmer, a Republican, supported a proposed amendment to Minnesota's constitution to ban gay marriage. 

Steinhafel apologized for the donation in a letter to Target employees in August. 

At the annual meeting, Steinhafel said the company has responded to the MN Forward donation by creating a policy committee to help guide Target's political activities. 

But some shareholders questioned whether the company will continue to donate to conservative causes. Steinhafel responded to several questions on the topic, but then tried to steer the conversation in a different direction.

"Does anybody have a question relating to our business that is unrelated to political giving?" he said. "I would love to hear any question related to something else."

Steinhafel's request was followed by more questions about political donations. One participant directly asked whether Target would support the proposed amendment to Minnesota's constitution to ban same sex marriage. 

Steinhafel said the company focuses on candidates who support Target's strategic business initiatives. "We do not want to take a role in social issues," he said.