Back in January, Seattle-based Starbucks endorsed a Washington bill to legalize gay marriage in the state (it eventually passed and will take effect in early June). Predictably, the National Organization for Marriage, one of the largest anti-gay marriage groups in the country, flipped out (“Americans should be able to drink a peaceful cup of coffee without worrying that a portion of the company's profits is going to be used to push gay marriage without a vote from the people”). In response to the company's decision to pick up the cause of gay marriage rights, the group launched a Dump Starbucks campaign, urging consumers to boycott the coffee giant.

The protest comes after the company's shareholders meeting on Wednesday. Under a cloak of concern for the company's bottom line, NOM representatives asked CEO Howard Schultz and the board to justify their support for the legislation, asking in one instance, “Is it prudent to risk the economic interests of all the shareholders for something that might affect the private lives of a very small percentage of our employees?”

Schultz defended the company's decision, noting that the company has 200,000 employees. “The equity of the brand has been defined by the relationship we have with them, and the relationship they have with our customers,” he said. “And I think the success that we've enjoyed, which is linked to shareholder value, has a great deal to do with whether or not our people are proud of the company they work for, and feel as if they are part of something larger than themselves.”

Despite Schultz's assurance that “there has not been any dilution whatsoever in our business,” NOM says Starbucks has “deeply offended at least half its U.S. customers, and the vast majority of its international customers” and has “declared a culture war on all people of faith (and millions of others) who believe that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman is worth preserving.” As “a portion of every cup of coffee purchased at a Starbucks anywhere in the world goes to fund this corporate assault on marriage,” NOM's Dump Starbucks campaign asks consumers to pledge to get their caffeine fix elsewhere. As of Sunday night, there are about 18,700 such pledges from its little squad of like-minded folks.

In response, the Human Rights Campaign and Sum of Us have launched their own campaigns urging consumers to boycott NOM's boycott and sign what essentially are oversized thank-you cards to Starbucks. In this so-called cultural war, it looks as though their side of the fence has enlisted considerably more troops: In just 48 hours, the Sum of Us campaign had amassed more than 200,000 signatures.

LA Weekly