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Barilla Chairman Stands By Anti-Gay Ad Policy, Citing Family Values

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The chairman of Barilla Group, the world's largest pasta company, has issued a semi-apology after saying he refuses to feature gay families in advertisements for his products because he prefers a "traditional" family.

But he's sticking to his stance.

"I apologize if my words generated misunderstandings or controversy or if they hurt some people's feelings," Guido Barilla wrote in a post on the company's Facebook page Thursday, according to a translation from the Italian by The Huffington Post.

Barilla sparked a firestorm on Wednesday when he said in an interview on the Italian radio show "La Zanzara" that he simply wouldn't consider showing gays in commercials for one of his brands because it touts a "perfect family."

"For us, the sacral family remains one of the company's core values," he said. "Our family is a traditional family. If gays like our pasta and our advertising, they will eat our pasta; if they don't like that, they will eat someone else's pasta."

"I would not do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect toward homosexuals -- who have the right to do whatever they want without disturbing others -- but because I don't agree with them and I think we want to talk to traditional families," he continued.

In his Facebook post on Thursday, Barilla wrote that he had intended to "underline the centrality of the woman's role in the family."

"To be clear, I just want to specify that I do have great respect for every person, without any kind of distinction. I do respect gay people and everybody's freedom of expression. I also said I do respect gay marriage," he wrote.

Yet his opinion on excluding gays from his company's marketing hasn't changed. "Barilla in its advertising has always chosen to represent the family because this is the symbol of hospitality and affection for everyone," he wrote.

Founded in 1877 as a pasta shop in Parma, Italy, Barilla now exports to more than 100 countries and boasts 15 brands, including Mulino Bianco, Voiello, Pavesi and Wasa, in addition to its namesake Barilla pasta. The company had around $5.4 billion in net sales worldwide in 2012 and it employs more than 13,000 people. Guido Barilla took over in 1993, after his father died.

Italy lags a bit behind the U.S. on gay rights, with attitudes toward homosexuality complicated by the country's strong ties to the Catholic church. The Italian parliament is only now debating an anti-homophobia bill, and former Prime Minister Mario Monti has said he opposes same-sex marriage and adoption by gay parents.

Italian politician and LGBT activist Alessandro Zan quickly spoke out against Barilla's stance, announcing that he's boycotting the company's brands and encouraging others to follow suit, according to a report from Italy's Gazzetta del Sud.

"Here we have another example of homophobia, Italian style," Zan said. "I've already changed pasta brands. Barilla is terrible quality."

Corporate insensitivity and often outright hostility toward gays and lesbians remains a fraught issue in the U.S. as well, and many large companies have found themselves under fire for moves seen as discriminating against LGBT people.

Last year, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy came out against gay marriage and in support of the "biblical definition" of the family, saying on a radio show, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'" A national controversy followed, with protests of the restaurant met with counter-protests in support of Cathy.

Oil behemoth Exxon Mobil has caught criticism for refusing to add protection for gays to its corporate anti-bias policy. And Walmart, the world's largest retailer, recently suffered from revelations that the company donated money to anti-gay "family" organizations.

Outrage from consumers and the LGBT community over Guido Barilla's comments was similarly swift. Angry consumers flocked to Barilla's U.S. Facebook page to express their disappointment, and many called for boycotts of the pasta-maker.

"As a heterosexual married female, I will no longer continue to buy your pasta until your stance changes and you issue an apology," wrote Kathleen Clark Marsocci. "It looks like our annual meatball extravaganza will have another pasta brand this year."

"Hatred has no place in business, and it will never have a place in my household," wrote Kyra Wilson.

"You have lost yet another loyal customer," wrote Chrissy Ercole. "I will not buy your products ever again. Neither will many of my friends and family."

Others took to Twitter to express their anger at Barilla's stance, using the hashtag #boicottabarilla. (Story continues below slideshow.)

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Barilla is also facing backlash in Canada, with messages in French and English posted to the company's Canadian Facebook page calling for a boycott of its pasta and related products. "Barilla wants a media war? let there be a war," one Facebook message read.

In a statement to The Huffington Post, Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications for the U.S. gay rights organization GLAAD, said Guido Barilla's opinion was "ill-informed," and that families would not support companies that promote discrimination.

He pointed to another Italian pasta-maker, Bertolli (now owned by Unilever), as an alternative for consumers who don't want to buy Barilla. Bertolli has been pro-gay rights in the past, and released a commercial featuring a gay couple in 2008.

"These insulting anti-gay comments will not only lead to LGBT people skipping Barilla in favor of more inclusive brands like Bertolli, but their family members, friends and co-workers as well," said Ferraro. "Homophobia is bad for business -- plain and simple."

Giulia Belardelli, Cavan Sieczkowski and Ron Nurwisah contributed reporting

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story did not specify that Mario Monti is the former prime minister of Italy. The story has been updated to reflect his status.

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