Starbucks CEO defends gay marriage against shareholder

At this week's annual shareholders meeting in Seattle, Wash., Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz came to the defense of the company's open support for equal marriage rights in the face of an agitated investor.

During a heated exchange in the meeting, Starbucks shareholder Tom Strobhar attacked the company's business decision to endorse marriage equality and the decrease of earnings that followed.

"In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings, shall we say politely, were a bit disappointing," Strobhar said in reference to the National Organization for Marriage's boycott of the corporate coffee giant.

Schultz bluntly retorted that Starbucks's endorsement is about a principle dedicated to diversity that supersedes the acquisition of money.

"If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it's a free country," Schultz said directory to the shareholder. "You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company, thank you very much," Schultz added to applause from much of the room.

In 2012, Starbucks endorsed a Washington state bill to legalize gay marriage.

In a press release dated from January 24 2012, executive vice president Kalen Holmes said,"Starbucks is is proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples."

The statement went on to boast of the company's benefits program that for 20 years has offered domestic partners equal benefits in the U.S.

The subsequent boycott that Strobhar refers to began shortly after that statement when NOM was able to acquire 50,000 pledges to boycott Starbucks and their products.

NOM President Brian Brown also said in November that the group was reaching out to Middle Eastern nations like Qatar, as well as India, to ensure that Starbucks's pro-equality stances would be known in countries opposed to same-sex  marriage or perceived to have anti-gay attitudes.

At last year's shareholders meting, Strobhar told Schultz to stop endorsing "liberal causes." Strobhar is the founder of the Corporate Morality Action Center, an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage special interest. He also chairs non-profit Life Decisions International, which has been working against Planned Parenthood since 1992.

Christian groups such as the United Methodist Church in North Carolina began refusing to officiate same-sex marriages until Methodist pastors allowed same-sex wedding ceremonies.

KPLU News, an affiliate of NPR, recorded the confrontational exchange at the shareholders' meeting.

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