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Tim Hortons' corporate policy says the company 'does not sponsor individuals, those representing religious groups, political affiliates, book endorsements or travelling sports teams.' ((Jamie Fine/Reuters))

Tim Hortons has reversed its decision to sponsor a Rhode Island rally held by a U.S. group that opposes same-sex marriage, after encountering fierce criticism for the move.

The August 16 event, organized by the National Organization for Marriage, is billed as a "Celebrate Marriage & Family Day." Held in suburban Providence, the rally is to include speeches, a cookout and a ceremony in which married couples are invited to renew their vows.

The National Organization for Marriage is a non-profit organization "with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it," according to its website.

It was formed in 2007 "in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures," the site says.

In a flyer for the event, Tim Hortons was listed as a sponsor, and was promptly criticized. 

A number of blogs dealing with gay issues wrote about the story and urged readers to contact Tim Hortons to express their dissatisfaction.

Many pointed out that the sponsorship appeared to be in violation of Tim Hortons' corporate policy, which states that the company "does not sponsor individuals, those representing religious groups, political affiliates, book endorsements or travelling sports teams."

Loralee Edwards, a blogger from Lethbridge, Alta., said she was appalled by Tim Hortons' involvement because she sees the National Organization for Marriage as vehemently anti-gay and lesbian.

"Tim Hortons has sort of always said that they won't support political organizations," she told CBC News. 

"And although this is in the U.S., I've sent messages to the Canadian headquarters, asking that they make a national announcement that they don't support the U.S. decision."

Organization says regional rep OK'd deal

Monday afternoon, Tim Hortons issued a statement confirming it will pull out as a sponsor of the event.

"It has come to our attention that the Rhode Island event organizer and purpose of the event fall outside of our sponsorship guidelines. As such, Tim Hortons can not provide support at the event," the statement said.

"We apologize for any misunderstanding or inconvenience this may have caused."

The event's organizer, Christopher Plante, said he was taken aback by the uproar over the issue.

"Tim Hortons was approached by one of our advisory board members and simply asked whether they would provide coffee for the event in question and they graciously accepted to do that.  We were talking with a state-wide or regional [representative], not a local franchise," said Plante, executive director for the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage. 

"They said, 'Absolutely, we'd love to do that.'"

Tim Hortons, which originated in Canada, is currently the subsidiary of a U.S. firm after being spun off by former owner Wendy's International in 2006. In June, the company filed a plan with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to become a subsidiary of a firm incorporated in Canada.