Peter Vidmar seemed like the perfect choice to serve as the Chief of Mission for next year's Olympics in London. A corporate motivational speaker and former Olympic champion, Vidmar since 2008 has been chairman of USA Gymnastics. Yet while he was offered and accepted the post, come summer 2012, Vidmar will not be the United States Chief of Mission. Why? Because in 2008 he donated $2,000 to support California's Proposition 8, the voter-approved legislation that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Vidmar's case was a controversy that more sputtered than erupted. On April 29, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) announced that it had selected Vidmar as Chief of Mission. Over the following few days a handful of gay websites complained, citing Vidmar's background as an advocate for traditional marriage and his membership in the Mormon church. Then on May 5 the Chicago Tribune posted an item on its sports blog, Globetrotting, in which only one athlete, figure skater Johnny Weir, said he opposed Vidmar's appointment. In the same article Vidmar assured columnist Philip Hersch he would serve and support all the Olympians regardless of their sexual orientation, and the CEO of the USOC, Scott Blackmun, reaffirmed the committee's choice, saying the USOC respected Vidmar's right to express his religious convictions.
The next day, on May 6, Vidmar announced he was resigning so his presence would not become a distraction to the upcoming games and the performances of the athletes.
Others have reacted differently to gay protests. When University of Michigan law students opposed Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio as this year's commencement speaker on the grounds that he "vocally and actively supports denying equal rights to gays and lesbians," the university held firm. Except for a group of students staging a silent walkout, Portman's graduation speech came off without a hitch.
Likewise, some University of South Carolina students objected to the honorary degree their school was conferring on the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, G. Bryant Wright, and called him an "advocate for hate." Wright attended the ceremony, collected his diploma, and the event went on. But Portman and Wright do not have to depend on corporate invitations for their daily bread. We'll watch to see what happens to Vidmar's bookings and career, now that he is on the radar of gay-rights groups.
Recent events surrounding law firm King and Spalding's decision to renege on its contract to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and drop the United States House of Representatives as a client suggest that Vidmar might have a hard time.
One day after King and Spalding withdrew from the case, The Weekly Standard obtained an internal email from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) activist group that lobbies for same-sex marriage. The email revealed that the organization privately contacted King and Spalding clients to inform them of the firm's "wrongheaded decision" to represent the House.
Unapologetic, HRC spokesman Fred Sainz confirmed to The Washington Post that the group did indeed contact some of King and Spalding's Fortune 500 clientele so they could, in turn, bring pressure to bear against the Atlanta-based firm. Though Sainz would not disclose which clients his group contacted, he did say, "We are an advocacy firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of gays and lesbians. It is incumbent on us to launch a full-throated educational campaign so firms know that these kinds of engagements will reflect on the way [their] clients and law school recruits think of [them]," adding, "We did all of this, and we're proud to have done it."
Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, says this kind of professional intimidation is the same-sex lobby's new modus operandi for furthering its agenda. "Rather than try to win over voters, they threaten to hurt your business and go to clients and cause a fuss. This isn't confirmed yet, but according to the gay blogs, they succeeded in getting Coca-Cola to pressure King and Spalding," she says. To date, the soft drink giant will neither confirm nor deny that it threatened to take its legal business elsewhere if the firm did not drop DOMA, but a Coca-Cola spokesman did point out that the company has a long history of support for "diversity."
Great as the legal implications of the HRC getting a major law firm to drop a case it finds objectionable are, perhaps even more significant is the case of Scott Eckern, former artistic director and chief operating officer of Sacramento's California Music Theatre. After some gay theater professionals noticed his name on the website antigayblacklist.com that listed people who contributed money to support Proposition 8, they organized a boycott.
Marc Shaiman, the Tony-award-winning composer of Hairspray, and Jeff Whitty, the Tony-award-winning playwright of Avenue Q, said they would not allow the theater to perform any of their future works while Eckern was employed there. Gay-rights groups urged Sacramento theatergoers not to patronize the venue, which is the largest nonprofit arts organization in the state and the oldest professional performing arts company in Sacramento. News reports included some of Eckern's colleagues expressing shock, saying that until the incident they had no idea of his beliefs concerning gay marriage.
"I am disappointed that my personal convictions have cost me the opportunity to do what I love the most," Eckern, who had been employed with the theater for 23 years, said in a prepared statement. Before resigning, he publicly donated $1,000-the same amount he had given to support Prop 8-to the HRC.
What differentiates the activities of the HRC from interest-group boycotts of the past is that it isn't the platform or practice of the companies themselves they object to, but the constitutionally protected political expression of the companies' employees, volunteers, and clients. Unlike, say, parent groups boycotting Abercrombie and Fitch for its sexually charged advertising, the USOC, King and Spalding, and California Music Theatre didn't take a stand on the definition of marriage. To the extent that the three express any corporate opinion regarding homosexuality, it is positive.
Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the traditional marriage advocacy group The Ruth Institute, says the ramifications of tactics like the HRC's are enormous, with gay activists essentially saying they expect businesses to police the political beliefs and political activities of their employees and volunteers or face severe retribution.
Yet according to the most recent Pew poll, Americans are about evenly split on the issue of same-sex marriage (46 percent oppose it, while 45 percent are for it). Perhaps more telling, gay marriage has been defeated in every state where it has appeared on the ballot. This would seem to indicate a serious disconnect between the actual power of gay groups and their perceived power in the business community. Gallagher says there's an easy explanation for the discrepancy-the work of major media.
"These elite networks of power use the echo chamber of the media to exact a price and punish those who disagree with them," says Gallagher. As an example, she offers Doug Manchester, a hotel developer in San Diego who donated money to support Prop 8. "[Gay groups] organized a protest in front of his hotel-no big deal, about 25 guys in red shirts. But you get 25 guys in red shirts and The New York Times publishes a major story on it and the echo chamber picks it up from there."
Gallagher says that while the reality is that the HRC's bark is worse than its bite, "most regular people don't want to get bitten." Morse echoes her sentiments, saying that even though there's little evidence the gay lobby has a significant impact on customer behavior, when they begin to drum up negative coverage, "they all [the companies] completely fold. All of them. Including people who ought to know better."
Once a company gives in to the demands of groups like the HRC, says Morse, it will only earn itself more reprisals. "It's like when a couple of gay bloggers called down the wrath of the gay networks on Chick-fil-A for donating some sandwiches to a marriage seminar that had nothing to do with gay marriage," she says. "My thought at the time was that Chick-fil-A should have told them, 'Tough, take a flying leap.' And the fact that they didn't is why [gay groups] have hung onto it. Chick-fil-A showed weakness and now they're all over them."
She believes that with the corporate world increasingly doing what voters would not-bowing to gay activists' demands that same-sex marriage be treated as a civil right-how the Christian business community reacts to the pressure will be especially important. "It is a fact that we sometimes have to pay a price for the sake of the gospel," she comments. Peter Vidmar's retreat suggests that the gay lobby's tactic of targeting businesses and businesspeople may not face the kind of resistance Morse hopes to see.