REI belays same-sex marriage campaign

Joel Connelly in the Seattle PI

Recreational Equipment, Inc., the venerable Seattle-based retail outfitter and cooperative, is the latest major area business to endorse Referendum 74, the same-sex marriage measure on Washington’s November ballot.

“REI is taking a position in support of marriage equality, an issue that is important to the co-op as an inclusive organization and a welcoming place to work and do business,” REI president/CEO Sally Jewell said in a blog post to the co-op’s 11,000 employees.

Despite occasional, ineffective boycott threats by opponents, major businesses and business groups have signed on to the marriage equality cause. If voters approve, Washington will be the seventh state to legalize marriage between same-sex couples., Starbucks, Microsoft, Vulcan, and Nike have endorsed marriage equality, as recently did the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Jewell delivered the endorsement in unusually personal terms, talking about her own 34-year marriage.

“Marriage equality is important to the co-op because the benefits, legal clarity and social understanding that Warren and I have enjoyed the past 34 years should be available to any two people who want to express their love and make a permanent commitment to each other that is so clearly provided for in the legal definition of marriage,” she wrote.

REI started as a hole-in-the-wall cooperative on Capitol Hill, but is now a $1.8 billion business with 5 million members.

Initially a very male, somewhat macho workplace — a long-ago Jewell predecessor was notorious for hitting on female employees — it is now diverse and inclusive.

“I am proud of the inclusive environment that REI creates for our LGBT teammates and customers, and recognize that this is a continuing journey for all of us as we strive to be increasingly inclusive across all the dimensions of diversity,” Jewell wrote.

She noted that some shoppers and employees may disagree with Monday’s stand, and added:

“I want to ensure that our colleagues and customers who have beliefs that run counter to the position the co-op is taking on this issue feel respected in their right to disagree.”

Washington, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota will be voting on marriage equality this fall.

Same-sex marriage is 0 for 32 in statewide votes, but that may change in November.

In Washington and Maryland, legislators passed marriage equality bills with strong support from Catholic governors, despite the Church’s steadfast opposition. Marriage equality is leading in polls from both states.

In Maine, supporters of same-sex marriage collected enough petition signatures to force a statewide vote. Marriage equality was narrowly voted down in 2009, but four other New England states have legalized same-sex marriage.

Minnesota is different. It will vote on a measure, heavily backed by Republicans and the Catholic hierarchy, that would enshrine in the state constitution a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

But the measure has lost support in the polls. Leading Protestant groups oppose it, along with the 3M Company, long a major employer in the North Star State.