A Companyâs Stand for Gay Marriage, and Its Cost
By JAMES B. STEWART
In the months leading up to North Carolinaâs vote this month to ban gay marriage, most of the stateâs business leaders were conspicuously silent. While some executives spoke out against it as individuals, not one Fortune 500 company headquartered in North Carolina, including Bank of America, Duke Energy, VF Corporation and Loweâs, opposed it.
But one company did: Replacements Limited, which sells silver, china and glassware, and is based in Greensboro. Its founder and chairman, Bob Page, is gay. The company lobbied legislators, contributed money to causes supporting gay marriage, rented a billboard along the interstate near its headquarters, and sold T-shirts at its showroom. Its experience may explain why no other for-profit company followed its example.
Hostile letters and e-mails poured into the company from customers canceling their business and demanding to be removed from its e-mail list. âI understand that your company donated $250,000 or so to the effort to ban the marriage amendment,â read one. âI am very concerned that with an increased visibility and acceptance of the gay and lesbian lifestyle, one of my children, who would have grown up and been happily married to a husband, could be tempted to the lesbian lifestyle.â
Another read: âI was excited to see your wares and expected a pleasant shopping experience. Instead I was accosted by your political views, which I do not share. It was very uncomfortable and unpleasant browsing with all those signs and T-shirts against amendment one, to the point where I had to leave.â
A third said, âMoney you used to support this opposition came from my many purchases from your company and that is not O.K. with me,â adding, âI will look for my replacement pieces elsewhere.â
Several writers seemed more sad than angry. âVisiting Replacements Limited has always been one of my favorite treats,â said one. âI had the privilege of experiencing your beautiful store firsthand,â began another. Both said they would never return. Andrew Spainhour, Replacementâs general counsel and a member of the steering committee that organized opposition to the amendment, tried to recruit other businesses. âI had a lot of phone calls and e-mails that werenât returned,â he said. âIf I did have a conversation, theyâd say, âGosh, we canât do this, we canât go out on a limb.â Thereâs a tremendous amount of fear.â
The company did get a few letters and e-mails of support, but the outpouring against its stand shows that the subject of gay marriage âis hugely divisive in our state,â Mr. Spainhour said. âItâs exposed a lot of fault lines. Itâs a natural reaction for people to say, âWeâre not going to anger 50 percent of the people that we do business with or want to do business with.â Thereâs too much downside.â
Mr. Spainhour said he worried about Mr. Pageâs safety, and has discussed his concerns with him. He mentioned Charles C. Worley, pastor of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., not far from Greensboro, who preached on May 13 that lesbians and gays should be separated from each other and society and quarantined behind electrified fences. âIn a few years, theyâll die out,â Mr. Worley said. âThey canât reproduce.â Video of the sermon circulated on the Internet.
âBob has been absolutely fearless in the face of that,â Mr. Spainhour said. âItâs a North Carolina that exists but that I donât recognize. There are two North Carolinas: the progressive cities and college towns, and places where there are no openly gay people.â
Much the same could be said of America as a whole. Although recent polls suggest a majority of Americans favor legalizing gay marriage in their state, those who do are concentrated in the Northeast and on the West Coast. But even in those states most hostile to the idea, support for gay marriage has grown strongly over the past decade.
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