- (Photo: AP Images / Charles Krupa)
Target Corporation is suing a gay marriage protest group for driving away customers from its San Diego, Calif., stores.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Barton heard initial arguments Friday morning between Target Corp. and Canvass for a Cause. The judge plans to issue a ruling next week.
The group, founded by “pissed off activists” according to the website, says it canvasses at shopping malls, college campus and stores like Target to collect signatures and donations in support of gay marriage.
However, Target headquarters says CFAC volunteers are disrupting customers. The Minnesota-based company filed a lawsuit against CFAC for its activity in front of San Diego County Target stores.
According to court documents, the activists typically stand within 10 feet of the store entrance and approach customers by asking them if they support gay marriage. If the individual says yes, the volunteers ask him or her to sign a petition and make a credit card donation. If the individual responds negatively to the initial question, court documents state that volunteers tend to become “angry and aggressive” and “challenge our customers on their morals.”
Target Corp. Executive Team Lead Daniel Brown testifies in the documents, “I have seen them tell our customers not to vote if they are unhappy with the customers' views.”
Also, in a March 1 complaint, a man complained after a CFAC volunteer allegedly verbally berated his wife while she was with their four-month-old child. He alleged that the volunteer followed the wife to her car and refused to move until she gave a credit card donation.
The corporation also claims that at least eight Target stores in San Diego County have reported receiving an average of eight to 10 complaints reporting similar harassment and discomfort since CFAC volunteers started working outside their stores in October 2010.
CFAC Director Tres Watson told The Associated Press that it trains its volunteers to be professional and polite, and to educate the public about the rights of gays and lesbians. The group says the lawsuit is meant to shut down their right to free speech.
“It’s very David vs. Goliath. We understand they’re the Goliath in the room. They’ve got all money in world to get us to stop talking about gay marriage,” Watson said of the trial.
But Dale Larson, attorney for the company, argues that “Target is not a public forum.”
Target asserts in the lawsuit that CFAC volunteers have been violating its no-solicitation policy, which states: “In order to provide a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests, we do not allow solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause being represented.”
Brown argues that the activists violated the policy by refusing to leave the store's property when asked politely and shown the company's policy prohibiting solicitation. Target Corp. says it has taken similar actions against a number of organizations representing a variety of causes.
The Salvation Army was banned in 2004 from deploying its iconic bell ringers for the annual Christmas campaign in front of Target stores.
This is not the first confrontation that Target has experienced over gay rights. Pop singer Lady Gaga backed out of a deal with the retailer to exclusively sell a special edition of her single “Born This Way.” Lady Gaga allegedly was dissuaded by the company’s donations to Minnesota Forward. Minnesota Forward then donated the funds to the campaign of pro-traditional marriage gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer (R).
Target responded to the controversy stating, “Target remains committed to the LGBT community as demonstrated by our contributions to various LGBT organizations, our recently established Policy Committee to review our political giving and our respectful, inclusive workplace environment.”
Along with appearances at Target, Canvass for a Cause volunteers have also gone door to door, lobbying for gay rights and telling neighbors that they accept LGBT Americans “for who they really are.” The group’s goal is to get the listeners and passers-by to support their causes.