Target Corp. is adding its name to a U.S. legal defence of gay marriage, joining other large companies that are taking a stand, just four years after the retailer came under criticism for supporting a strident opponent of same-sex unions.
Target said it has signed a court brief backing marriage equality in a pending court case and publicly declared its support of gay marriage, a move similar to those taken by Starbucks, Intel and Apple.
"It is our belief that everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes rights we believe individuals should have related to marriage," Target executive vice president of human resources Jodee Kozlak wrote on the company's blog.
Target has come under fire in the past from gay rights activists who threatened boycotts after the retailer — along with Best Buy and 3M — donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization that supported Republican Tom Emmer, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, in the 2010 Minnesota governor's race.
Target has worked to win back customers in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and has long offered benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.
Nearly all of Minnesota's biggest corporations declined to take a position on the 2012 state referendum to ban gay marriage except for General Mills, which opposed the ban. The referendum failed and the state legislature passed a bill recognizing same-sex marriage in 2013.
Phil Duran, legal director of OutFront Minnesota, which worked to defeat the state's referendum to ban gay marriage, called Target "a powerful voice."
A spokeswoman for the Minnesota Family Council, which led the charge against gay marriage, predicted that the move will backfire.
"This is a very risky business decision and ultimately the wrong one because it is families that shop at Target," Autumn Leva told the Star Tribune. "People in Minnesota are still deeply divided on this issue."
The case in which Target has filed a brief combines legal actions in Wisconsin and Indiana. Federal judges overturned gay marriage bans in both states and state officials appealed. The case is scheduled for an Aug. 26 hearing in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her blog post, Kozlak explained that the brief challenges states that both prohibit same-sex marriage and also refuse to recognize marriages that were conducted legally in other states.
"This position is particularly challenging for a large organization that operates nationally, such as Target," she wrote.
"At Target, we have long offered comprehensive, competitive benefits to our LGBT team members and their families, often above what is legally required. We continue to do so today because we believe doing so is right for our team and for our business. But current laws — in places like Wisconsin and Indiana that are addressed in this brief – make it difficult to attract and retain talent. These disparate laws also create confusing and complicated benefits challenges across multiple states," she said.