Gay rights advocates have taken their fight to the land of e-commerce where they are demanding large retailers including Apple, Microsoft, Netflix and Wal-Mart to end their association with Christian-oriented Internet marketer known as Charity Giveback Group.
Charity Giveback group gets a commission from the retailers for each online customer it gives them. The arrangement is routine. However, a share of the commission that retailers pay is donated to a Christian charity of the buyer’s choice, from a list that includes prominent conservative evangelical groups like Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.
According to The New York Times, Stuart Wilber, a 73- year old gay man in Seattle, kicked off the national debate in July when he learned that people who bought Microsoft products through Charity Giveback Group (CGBG), could direct a donation to evangelical organizations that call homosexual behavior a threat to the moral and social fabric.
Despite angry gay-rights advocates speaking out against the scheme, conservative Christian groups say they are being attacked by pro-gay groups for their genuine biblical views of sex and marriage.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, Microsoft,’ ” Wilber recalled, noting that the software giant - like many other corporations accessible through the commerce site, including Apple and Netflix - was known as friendly to gay causes.
Wilber started a Change.org petition asking Microsoft to end its association with what he called “hate groups”. In one night, 520 people had signed and the mega retailer had quietly dropped out of the donation plan with CGBG.
Wilber’s actions instigated an uninvited assessment of hundreds of companies associated with the popular online marketer. Companies caught between gay rights advocates and conservative Christians have the challenge of not offending any consumers but also avoiding politics through a choice that ultimately affects their companies’ financial health.
Companies under fire by bloggers and advocates include giants such as Macy’s, Expedia and Delta Air Lines.
Former pastor, governor and presidential contender Mike Huckabee called the issue “economic terrorism” in an interview with the NY Times today. Huckabee, who is a paid CGBG consultant said, “To try to destroy a business because you don’t like some of the customers is, to me, unbelievably un-American.”
A counter campaign from the Christian groups has launched. “Please Don’t Discriminate Against My Faith” is the heading of a sample letter among requests from Huckabee and other Christian leaders.
Wilber’s change.org isn’t the only petition that has affected the departures of close to 100 companies that have left the charity arrangement. NY gay-rights group AllOut.org has an e-mail subscriber base of hundreds of thousands who are focused on the travel industry and are helping to push Avis, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Expedia and many other hotels and travel agencies to disassociate themselves from CGBG.
In addition to AllOut.org’s efforts, San Francisco based web site Jiveinthe415.org has followed suit. Jiveinthe415.org founder Roy Steele directly contacted 150 companies listed on the e-commerce site. Also Ben Crowther, a college student in Bellingham, Washington started an Internet appeal that drew 22,700 signatures.
Of the companies that have left the Internet marketing system, most are refusing to discuss why. A few companies that left, including PetSmart, Target and Delta, are being persuaded to return.
“People have been misled. The retailers are not donating to anyone; they are simply paying a commission to get traffic, said CGBG president John Higgins in an interview with the Times.
Blogger Steele advocates insist that their push is not anti-Christian. He said, “It has nothing to do with biblical positions. It has to do with the fact that these groups spread lies and misinformation about millions of Americans.
CGBG is a for-profit company formerly called the Christian Values Network. CGBC president Higgins told the NY Times that the Internet marketing company had no anti-gay agenda. He said they focused on Christian consumers and marketing through large organizations like Focus on the Family because it saw an untapped commercial opportunity.