Luxury retailer Nordstrom Inc. has jumped into the controversial gay marriage debate by openly supporting the rights of gay and lesbians to marry.
The Seattle retailer joins other prominent Washington corporations such as Starbucks Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. in favor of approving Referendum 74 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
Company president Blake Nordstrom sent a companywide memo -- co-signed by brothers Erik and Pete, also executives at the retailer -- laying out the retailer’s “philosophical approach” to business, which includes a workplace where “every employee is welcomed and respected.”
Nordstrom already offers domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples, and sexual orientation is included in its anti-discrimination policy. Now the company is going further still.
“We feel the next step in this journey is to now support freedom to marry, also called marriage equality,” Nordstrom wrote in the memo. “We gave this thoughtful consideration and felt the time was right to come out in support of this civil rights issue.
“It is our belief that our gay and lesbian employees are entitled to the same rights and protections marriage provides as all our employees,” the memo continues, adding that “the decision is consistent with our long-time philosophy of inclusivity and equality.”
Shoppers on social media greeted the news with mixed reactions.
“One more reason to love and shop at #Nordstrom!” wrote Lauren Klein on Twitter. Mike Behrens tweeted “I won’t be shopping there, anymore.”
Stepping into a lightning-rod issue is almost guaranteed to win Nordstrom both hardy praise and heavy criticism, similar to other companies that have expressed opinions on gay marriage in the past.
Chick-fil-A caused a stir this summer after its president publicly voiced opposition to gay marriage. The comments inspired boycotts and calls from politicians to block the chain from opening stores in their neighborhoods, but also approval from some customers including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The quick-service chain ultimately pledged to stop donating to anti-gay groups.
While gay marriage remains a hotly debated issue, many companies have begun to openly court gay and lesbian shoppers and their supporters.
J.C. Penney this year hired lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman, while Kraft Foods recently featured a Oreo cookie with a rainbow-colored middle -- a nod to gay pride -- on its Facebook page.
Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi