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Marriott and Kimpton hotel groups risk boycotts to oppose gay marriage bans in U.S.

Jan 29, 2013 12:53 am

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Kimpton and Marriott risk boycotts from conservative groups, despite the fact that the latter has given quite generously to conservative causes and has Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on its board.

— Jason Clampet

Report: Social Media Customer Service in the Travel Industry

Marriott International Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. are among at least 13 companies throwing their support behind an effort to repeal a U.S. law that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

Corporations such as Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Inc., the third-biggest U.S. health insurer, and EBay Inc., the San Jose, California-based operator of the world’s largest online marketplace, also have joined a coalition put together by the Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group in Washington. Six of the 13 coalition members are Fortune 500 companies.

Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage have gained momentum within the past year. The White House has dropped the government’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is being challenged in court, while nine states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to lawfully marry.

“We are proud of our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of all our employees within our benefits programs,” David Rodriguez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott, the largest publicly traded U.S. hotel chain, said in a statement. “Joining the Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal affirms that commitment, and we urge Congress to pass this important legislation.”

New legislation

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, both Democrats, are preparing to introduce bills that would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and federally recognize all legal same-sex marriages.

Spokesmen for Feinstein and Nadler said the lawmakers will introduce similar versions of legislation they sponsored during the last session of Congress. Those bills, which expired at the end of the session, would have repealed DOMA, which defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman and thus prevents same-sex married couples from claiming the federal tax breaks and other marriage benefits that opposite-sex spouses receive.

Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored a bill that gained 32 co-sponsors, with no Republican support, and didn’t come up for a floor vote before the end of the session. No action was taken on Nadler’s bill, which had bipartisan support among its 160 co-sponsors.

Nadler is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, which has jurisdiction over proposed constitutional amendments, abortion, federal civil rights laws and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

House position

When House Republicans established rules for the current session of Congress, the measure they adopted, H. Res. 5, included the authorization of taxpayer dollars to pay legal fees to fight challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act.

Last February, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress that the Obama administration would no longer defend DOMA.

“These corporate pioneers understand one marriage deserves no less respect and dignity than any other marriage,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “They understand that repealing the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is the right thing for our nation, and the smart thing for American business.”

UPS boycott

That support could make companies susceptible to boycotts.

Last month the Family Research Council, a traditional- values advocacy group that calls homosexuality “unnatural,” said it would cut all business ties with Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s biggest package-delivery company, after the company announced a non-discrimination policy for corporate giving, excluding groups like the Boy Scouts of America because of its prohibition on openly gay members.

“If UPS wants to cater to the intolerant crowd, that’s their business,” the Washington-based group wrote Dec. 11 on its website. “But from now on, it won’t be ours. FRC is taking its shipping needs elsewhere.”

In an interview today, Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said his group would also “be vigorously opposing the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in Congress.”

“I think it’s odd that corporations would be speaking out on a legislative issue like this,” he said. “It seems to me like the only reason they’re taking this position is not because it’s in their interest, but because they’re trying to appease the very vocal pro-homosexual activists.”

‘A relic’

The Human Rights Campaign said boycott threats are unwarranted.

“The question of boycotts or backlash against companies that stand up for equality has fast become a relic of a previous era,” Deena Fidas, deputy director of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Project, said in an interview. “The threats simply do not hold power or sway. To attempt to boycott these businesses for what have become mainstream views of a majority of Americans does not work.”

In addition to Marriott, Aetna, EBay and New York-based Bristol Myers Squibb, the members of the coalition include A/X Armani Exchange, owned by Milan-based fashion company Giorgio Armani SpA; drug maker Biogen Idec Inc., based in Weston, Massachusetts; Norwalk, Connecticut-based Diageo North America Inc., the operating arm of Diageo Plc, the world’s largest distiller, in Canada and the U.S.; and Redwood, California-based Electronic Arts Inc., the second-largest U.S. video-game maker.

Kimpton, Sun Life

Also participating are closely held Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC, headquartered in San Francisco; closely held Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., based in Springfield, Massachusetts; Replacements Ltd., a McLeansville, North Carolina-based company that supplies dinnerware sets; the U.S. arm of Sun Life Financial Inc., Canada’s third-largest insurer; and New York-based Thomson Reuters Corp.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters in selling financial and legal information and trading systems.

The Supreme Court in March will take up same-sex marriage for the first time, considering two cases including a challenge to a California ballot initiative barring such nuptials. The administration must decide by the end of February whether it will argue against the ballot measure.

Editors: Katherine Rizzo, Bennett Roth. To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy R. Homan in Washington at thoman1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net.

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