North Carolina voters ban same sex marriage, Obama comes out in favor of it, and while gay rights issues remain immediately timely and thoroughly heated, America’s corporations have not failed to find a money-making opportunity out of it.
Target launched a line of gay pride t-shirts and will donate up to $120,000 of proceeds to LGBT advocacy group, Family Equality Council. What seems like a bold solidarity campaign by Target is somewhat watered down by their decision to sell the t-shirts through the month of June and online only. With this Target managed to appeal to a certain consumership with the t-shirts and avoid offending another by putting them in a place where there are only found if you’re looking for one. Conservative shoppers won’t have to sift through gay pride t-shirts on stocked shelves of Target and so their business is less likely to be loss.
Either coincidentally or strategically appearing almost directly following Obama’s gay marriage endorsement, Gap launched a billboard campaign featuring a same sex couple. Actor, Rory O’Malley, and his boyfriend cuddle together inside of one t-shirt, along with the slogan “Be Bright, Be One,” telling Gap customers that you and your boyfriend will want to wear the shirt. The Gap ad has already been tagged by One Million Moms (OMM), an organization of the American Families Association, as “immoral advertising.” The group sees this new diversity in advertisements to be a danger to the morality of children and families. The rhetoric used by OMM is one of pictures of same sex couples being inappropriate for “public areas where children and families are sure to see.”
A bold advertising strategy, like this one, does not go uncalculated. Gap and Target are not the only ones. Urban Outfitters, JC Penney and several others are among the those scrutinized for depicting same sex couples in advertisements. For corporations, advertisements are careful appeals to the ideas and desires of consumers. It is important that we recognize this motivation even in situations where we applaud the forward contribution to the progress of changing social norms. Gap surely did some math on how much business they would conjure in the hype around their endorsement and how many sour grapes they will lose over it. Apparently, the math came out in favor of maskless equality.
The discourse around issues raised by OMM is highly intrusive and frankly inappropriately critical. It is necessary for there to be public discourse around the issue of gay marriage. Marriage is a legal construct and in order to prevent the exclusion of gays in the flawed institution, it must be a topic of debate. However, when the debate over gay rights comes to a coalition of mothers claiming to be representative of American families questions the rights of gay couples to show their faces in public, a whole new question of morality is brought to the table.