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6 Companies That Stand Up for Gay Rights (Now If They Only Had Good Labor Practices Too)

These companies figured out that support for marriage equality is good for business. When will labor rights be good for business?

Last week brought two big wins for marriage equality: Washington is  poised to become the seventh U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, while a federal appeals court declared California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Though we still have a long way to go in the fight against systemic LGBTQ discrimination, these successes were appropriately heralded as big steps forward.

Last week we also saw JC Penney, one of the most popular department store chains in North America, stand up for its new spokesperson, Ellen Degeneres, after the anti-gay group One Million Moms launched a boycott against the chain.

These incidents illustrate an important trend in, of all places, corporate America. Penney's stood up for DeGeneres, while major companies like Starbucks and Microsoft voiced their support for marriage equality. In doing so, the companies showed us that the right-wing culture war against homosexuality is losing not only in the courts, but in the court of public opinion.

As we know, corporations are all about the bottom line, and virtually no company would publicly back a social or political issue unless it -- to put it bluntly -- saw it as a business opportunity (or at the very least not a bad business decision). Tina Dupuy wrote about this phenomenon for AlterNet recently:

Advertisers put out an image or an idea -- the greater public concurs by buying those products. Successful ads equal agreed upon ideas. Marketing is, after all, the definitive pandering.

And here is what the culture is saying through advertisements: We like racial diversity. Why can I say that? Because commercials not only have racially diverse groups of friends and co-workers, they now regularly feature biracial couples in ads. In a Budweiser Super Bowl spot this year, there were black men flirting with white women sans scandal. If those spots are moving widgets it means consumers agree with the message. It's a type of voting. Even if some viewers don't notice or don't have a visceral reaction one way or another, it's an indicator of a new cultural norm.

As Dupuy mentions, the same goes for gay rights. JC Penney will support Ellen Degeneres as its spokesperson because polls show that most Americans (and, by extension, JC Penney shoppers) disagree with the bigots over at One Million Moms. Even more importantly, the market has shown that consumers will pay for products -- American Express cards, Covergirl cosmetics -- that Degeneres shills.

Nearly 15 years ago, when Degeneres famously came out of the closet in an episode of her sitcom, JC Penney likely would not have taken the stance it did this week. But now, in the year 2012, gay rights is starting to move into the mainstream. (One can only imagine that for Degeneres, the past decade and a half has been quite a journey, albeit one that is far from over.)

Several other companies that have actively supported recent gay rights battles are listed below. Beyond throwing their weight behind gay rights, these companies share something in common: each has a dubious track record with regards to workers' rights. It's clear that while the tide has turned for corporate support of gay rights, the same cannot yet be said for fair labor practices.

There is evidence that labor issues are getting more notice these days. For instance, Apple is seeing increased scrutiny over the poor treatment of Chinese factory workers, as evidenced by some popular online petitions and buzz-worthy news stories. Yet, we aren't seeing Apple or any other corporation take a meaningful stand against sweatshop conditions. (Many corporations say they oppose unfair worker treatment, but few really do anything about it.)

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