Why Starbucks' pro-gay marriage stance won't hurt its bottom line

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Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz
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Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz

CEO Howard Schultz lashes out at an investor over the issue

Last year, Seattle-based Starbucks came out in favor of Washington state's bill to recognize same-sex marriage (as our gay-marriage timeline shows, it passed).The National Organization for Marriage boycotted Starbucks over its position, which has reportedly led to tensions between at least one shareholder and CEO Howard Schultz.

NPR member station KPLU has audio from from the company's annual shareholders meeting:

Shareholder: In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings — shall we say politely — were a bit disappointing.

Schultz: If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much. [KPLU]

It should be noted that the shareholder who spoke up, Thomas Strobhar, is an activist who has been cited by NOM before. During a Bank of America shareholders meeting in 2012, he spoke up for a vendor's right to voice his personal opinion that marriage should be defined "as the union of one man and one woman." His website boasts that "he has stood up to fight corporate involvement in pornography, abortion, and gay marriage by speaking at corporate meetings such as Pfizer, Merck, Target, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, General Mills, Berkshire Hathaway, American Express, JP Morgan Chase, AT&T, and Microsoft."

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So it's clear where Strobhar stands. But did he accomplish his goal of spooking other shareholders?

Not really. Schultz's comments were greeted by cheers from the audience. And as ThinkProgress notes, "Even when the NOM’s boycott was making a small dent in the company’s sales, it was still performing better than the rest of the market." 

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Investors are more interested in Schultz's support for raising the minimum wage and extending the Starbucks Rewards program to grocery stores than the financial consequences of supporting gay marriage. Last month, the company joined Apple, Amazon, AIG, and even Mitt Romney's former home, Bain, in arguing to the Supreme Court that the Defense of Marriage Act hampers recruitment in states where gay marriage is not legal, and creates "unnecessary cost and administrative complexity," according to the Wall Street Journal. Like the majority of the country as a whole, it appears much of corporate America is fine with the idea of same-sex marriage

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