business news in context, analysis with attitude

Our lead story yesterday reported that Procter & Gamble is being attacked by two conservative Christian groups over the company’s opposition to a local statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from civil right protections.

The groups – Focus on the Family and the American Family Association – say that by opposing the statute, P&G is implicitly endorsing same sex marriage, which the two groups are trying to ban via a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

Procter & Gamble said through a spokesman that the two groups were connecting unrelated issues – that opposing a law that would prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians is not the same as supporting gay marriage.

Our comment: “Shame on these groups for engaging in the demonization of P&G for reasons that are at best specious, and at worst suggest these groups’ utter cynicism. They are trying to paint P&G into a corner that the company clearly and rightly wants to avoid.

“P&G has both customers and employees that are gay, and by opposing a local statute that would allow these people to be discriminated against, all the company is doing is standing up against bias. Compassion, apparently, that is beyond the grasp of these groups.

“We only hope that P&G’s management does not allow itself to be swayed by this nonsense. The company has the moral high ground on this one…and the groups that are trying to victimize it ore standing on a kind of moral quicksand.”

Not surprisingly, this story and our position generated some email. And, to be honest, almost nobody agreed with us.

One MNB user wrote:

Kevin, I think MNB provides a valuable service to the grocery industry, and I love reading it every morning. I respect your views, insights, and journalism.

That said, allow me to express my disagreement with you regarding your statement that Procter & Gamble has the moral high ground here.

Culturally we have forgotten that disconnecting sexuality from parenthood and responsibility begets selfishness. Retailers and marketers understand that sex is very powerful. But what gets forgotten is why sex is so powerful. It's not just about pleasure. It's not just about expressing affection. It's ultimately a drive that naturally pushes a person to be concerned with more than just himself. It urges spouses to be concerned about each other. And with the children that sex creates.

Homosexuality radically deviates from the nature of sex. It has no capacity for children, which is a reflection that it does not create selflessness, but rather encourages selfishness.

Culturally, we've been divorcing sex from parenthood and responsibility for several decades now. This has been a major contributing factor to the moral decline and increase in violence in our society. Saying that homosexuality is acceptable and even praiseworthy as many would have it, has the effect of solidifying this divorce and further worsening our moral decline.

Far from "having the moral high ground", Proctor and Gamble is engaging in pandering and doing Americans (both gay and straight) a real disservice. While I'm not going to boycott P&G, I do think the moral outrage the boycotters have is well-placed.

Kevin, I suspect you're getting diverse emails on this topic, some perhaps are unfortunately rude. Although I profoundly disagree with you on this, I do appreciate your work and service. And I have no wish to silence you. I merely hope that you give serious consideration to arguments against your position on this sensitive topic.

We give serious consideration to every argument, even when we disagree. And for the record, almost none were rude. Contentious, yes. But not rude.

Another MNB user wrote:

If P&G has in fact taken a public position on a statute to exempt gays and lesbians from certain rights, they are open targets for opposition.

P&G undoubtedly has gay employees and customers. But keep in mind, they also have customers and employees who see the biblical concept of a marriage between a man and women being challenged on a daily basis. This is an issue that people on both sides remain very compassionate about. You can not fault either side for taking a position and if a large consumer driven company (P&G) takes a vocal or public position in favor of supporting gays and lesbians at any level, they are not exempt from an alternative point of view, opinion or boycott.

We agree that by taking a position, P&G has opened itself to criticism. We’d also take issue with one word of this letter: we think that both sides are “passionate” about the issue…but we’re not sure that “compassionate” would describe everybody’s feelings about this.

Another MNB user wrote:

P & G also has many customers and employees who value traditional marriage as it exists by law in our country today. My guess is that this number far outweighs the other group.

Actually, isn’t that beside the point? P&G isn’t taking a position in the gay marriage debate – it isn’t even going as far as endorsing the “states rights” position taken by Vice President Cheney. It is the two pressure groups that are creating the linkage and trying to box P&G into a corner.

That said, we’re not sure we agree with your assessment of how the majority of Americans think. We think that the vast majority of Americans 1) believe that gay people are entitled to the same civil rights protections as everyone else in this country, and 2) are uncomfortable with or opposed to the notion of gay marriage. This vast majority needs and wants to reconcile those two opinions, and to do so without pressure and threats of retribution from one side or the other.

Another MNB user wrote:

I think you are being a little harsh on these groups that are only standing up for what they believe in. The way the article is written it would lead you to believe that if you are a gay or lesbian U.S. Citizen you will be stripped of your civil rights. Reality is, these people as individuals will have the same rights as you and me. The statute is declaring that gays and lesbians would not have preferential treatment because of their sexual orientation. When it comes right down to it, if they were discriminated against for any reason they would already have the same recourse you and I have under our current system. These two groups speaking out against P&G are firmly rooted in their beliefs. Their core foundation revolves around Christianity and family, and they feel both are being threatened by this movement. They aren't saying we should condemn these people individually, they are simply exercising their freedom of speech and stating they don't support the gay and lesbian platform. The beauty of freedom is we have the ability to listen to them and decide whether or not we agree. I would lose respect for any organization who doesn't stand up for what they believe in and I shudder to think anyone should lose their freedom of speech because some or even a majority don't agree.

Sure, we were harsh. But, we think, no harsher than those groups were in their attempt to instigate a boycott of P&G’s products…

One MNB user, echoing an opinion registered last week by another member of the MNB community, wrote:

I enjoy reading your newsletter each day, however, I am surprised that you would wade into a debate on social issues simply because it involves P&G. It doesn't fit with the ostensible mission of your newsletter and doesn't sit well with at least one reader. If I want your views on social issues, I would look forward to reading and debating them on a political or social blog. As for this newsletter, I would encourage you to stick to the reporting of retail news items and leave the social discussion for other sites.

As we said last week, we agree that this isn’t “safe” territory for an online B2B newsletter like MNB…but on the other hand, it seems to us like a legitimate discussion to have.

Today, it’s P&G. Tomorrow, it could be any other business, for virtually any other position. At the very least, retailers and manufacturers have to think about the environment in which they operate.

Sure, it’s the groups’ right to try and organize a boycott. But again, it seems to us that it is a perfectly legitimate topic for conversation. It isn’t just a social or cultural issue. It is a business issue, and has the potential for becoming a much bigger one.

And yet another MNB user chimed in:

I thought we had anti-discrimination laws? Do we really need separate laws for each and every type of citizen? I don't know anything about the law that is being discussed, only that I don't think we need separate laws for different classifications of people. AM I MISSING SOMETHING BEHIND THIS LAW?

We agree that gays and lesbians should be covered under existing bias laws. But the existence of hate crimes against gays suggests that maybe greater attention is required.

We wish that weren’t the case.

There were exactly two members of the MNB community who wrote in to agree with us.

One MNB user wrote:

Kudos to P&G for taking the high road. I will visit their website & make a list of P&G products & make certain I purchase them.

Remind me, what part of conservatism is compassionate?

And another MNB user wrote:

On your comments regarding Proctor & Gamble's position. AMEN!

We hope that this discussion generates light as well as heat…and that we all end up with levels of compassion that equal our passion.
KC's View: