In recent weeks, as a wave of business executives and corporations have signaled support for legalizing same-sex marriage, groups that oppose gay marriage have launched boycott campaigns and have written letters urging corporations to remain "neutral" on the issue. But this week when the president of Chick-fil-A came out against same-sex marriage, the National Organization for Marriage praised him as a "corporate hero for marriage."
The National Organization for Marriage is one of the advocacy groups leading the charge against legalizing same-sex marriage -- and the push for corporate neutrality.
In a Monday interview with the Baptist Press, Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A's president and chief executive, said "guilty as charged," when asked about "the company's support of the traditional family."
Cathy had also noted his opposition to same-sex marriage and its advocates in a recent radio interview. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about," he said.
The company has long been under fire from gay rights advocates for its history of giving to groups that advocate against gay rights. Officials at the fast food chain have mostly remained silent on the issue although longtime company observers say Cathy's recent public statements come as no surprise.
On Thursday, the National Organization for Marriage celebrated Cathy's statements. The NOM blog carried a link to the Baptist Press article, with the headline "President of Chick-Fil-A Proud to Stand for Biblical and Family Values" and the line "The Baptist Press profiles a corporate hero for marriage."
In 2011, NOM launched its Corporate Fairness Project, a program designed to push for corporate neutrality. According to its head, Jonathan Baker, it was created because "an increasing number of advocates of same-sex marriage were requesting corporations take a stand."
"We believe that when a corporation takes a position [on same sex marriage] it has a chilling effect on the ability of employees to speak out," Baker explained last month, after sending a letter to nearly 100 Minnesota businesses, requesting that they keep out of the debate in that state over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that will appear on ballots in November.
The Corporate Fairness Project is also leading boycotts of Starbucks and General Mills, two companies that have publicly supported same-sex marriage.
But Baker argues that Cathy's actions are not similar to executives' actions at the other companies because Cathy was expressing his "personal opinion."
"Its a question of what's appropriate," Baker said. "Is it appropriate for a corporation to take a stance? We don't believe so. Is it appropriate for individuals to have a personal opinion? We believe so."
But in his interview this week with the Baptist Press, Cathy never said he was merely articulating his personal opinion on marriage. The company is known for promoting the company founders' Christian values, which has led it to close all stores on Sundays.
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy told the Baptist Press reporter. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
The company posted a separate statement on Thursday on its Facebook page that states, however, that the "The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. The company also said that it intended to stay out of the policy debate over same-sex marriage "going forward."
When asked for comment, a company representative said it was not commenting on the matter beyond the Facebook statement.
Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, rejected the entire premise of NOM's neutrality campaign. "There is no such thing as being neutral on discrimination," he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
According to Equality Matters, the company gave nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009 and 2010.