Beware the business of same-sex marriage



Walk along the streets of inner-city Melbourne and you'll find poster after poster declaring that 'this small business supports marriage equality' or that a business is 'voting yes'. For LGBTI people, this show of visible support can be comforting in an increasingly hostile debate about marriage equality.

Rainbow posterAccording to the Australian marriage equality website, there are 739 corporations and 410 small businesses that officially support marriage equality. On the website page, there's a YouTube video including CEOs Alan Joyce and Ann Sherry on the topic of promoting marriage equality in corporate Australia. So why are businesses potentially risking alienating some straight consumers to take a stand with LGBTI rights? Partly because it's a current and popular political cause, but it also happens to be good business.

Catering to LGBTI consumers makes economic sense. The 'pink dollar', a concept that gained steam in the 1990s, describes the purchasing power of LGBTI consumers. LGBTI customers are a loyal consumer base because companies know that LGBTI people and, especially during waves of same-sex marriage political momentum, people who support LGBTI causes are more likely to choose businesses that are openly LGBTI friendly.

Promoting a LGBTI inclusive culture has positive impacts for both businesses and its LGBTI workers. Since six in ten LGBTI people experience discrimination in the workplace, having a clear stance can help hire and retain talented LGBTI employees, who are happier and more productive. According to the report Same Same: The Gay Census, 50 per cent of LGBT employees would feel more committed and loyal to employees that introduced inclusive policies.

However, the lure of the 'pink dollar' also leads to companies 'pink-washing', that is, deliberately portraying a gay-friendly persona for profit and to cover up their lack of actual support for LGBTI people and other human rights issues.

For example, last year Telstra did a hokey pokey with their commitment to supporting same-sex marriage, stating their support, withdrawing it and restating their support again. QANTAS, despite having a CEO with a committed stance in support of LGBTI rights, has been protested recently for deporting asylum seekers, some of whom come to fleeing Australia from persecution on the basis of their sexuality.

And despite their LGBTI friendly rainbow-soled shoes, fashion companies like Nike have a long and infamous track record of human rights abuses in sweat shops.

The line between commercial exploitation and promoting social awareness can be blurred when rainbow capital is involved. I do think that there's a place for advertising that's targeted towards LGBTI people, but only when it reflects a genuine desire to be more inclusive and ethical.


"Since a large segment of the LGBTI community are not middle class, white and abled-bodied, it's up to LGBTI people and their allies with privilege not to leave them behind and look past window dressing."


It can be tempting to like and share a branded pro-same sex marriage video and move on, but it's important to think critically about the implications of their advertising. Since a large segment of the LGBTI community are not middle class, white and abled-bodied, it's up to LGBTI people and their allies with privilege not to leave them behind and look past window dressing.

During this debate and afterwards, we need to hold businesses accountable to have a genuine commitment to LGBTI rights and ethical practices. As the fight for same sex marriage gains momentum, it's incredibly easy to be taken in by the rainbow packaging. I've done it myself.

But it's also just as easy to do some research. Some quick googling can reveal whether a company has a good track record with LGBTI and other human rights. Do they donate to LGBTI charities? Do they have an inclusion and diversity policy on their website, especially in regards to hiring trans people? It doesn't benefit equality in the long run if we allow businesses to brand themselves pro same sex marriage when their support for human rights runs only as deep as a rainbow poster.



Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, same sex marriage, sweat shops, exploitation



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Existing comments

Good reflection and comment Neve. It is worth also reviewing again those other articles down the side of Neve's article that are also worthy of reflection: one about the weapons industry, one about the future of work ,one about refugee policy and one about Aboriginal injustice. Would it not be constructive if the topics of conversation in society were also extended to include close honest examination of these concerns and ways to act authentically in regards to them?
Celia | 21 September 2017

What people do in their bedrooms and with whom makes no difference to whom I spend my dollars with. I hope that many people have this attitude too.
David | 21 September 2017

I reckon you got it in one, Neve. It's good business. That said, however, I also believe the 'YES' vote is likely to win handsomely - if "win" is the correct word. Sadly, in the event of a "win", recognition of same-sex marriage may not solve anything for the LGBTI community whose cares, trials and tribulations are unlikely to be relieved by being able to say ""We're married". Being married is not known for solving difficulties and indeed these days seems to cause more distress than its worth !
john frawley | 21 September 2017

Thank you Neve for a very good comment on business and its support for the LGBTI community. The only comment I would add is the lack of respect for the LGBTI community by the federal government in; this whole plebiscite issue. The LGBTI people I know don't particularly like all the rainbows by the businesses. They would have much rather the federal government went about its business and voted on this issue. The federal government has much to answer for in promoting so much that is unhelpful and indeed quite harmful to the LGBTI community. It was the government, not the businesses, who brought this us and them into our letterboxes.
Tom K | 21 September 2017

I think we are in grave danger of creating a real split in the community similar to the dreadful Catholic/Protestant one that existed well into the 1960s. I think the whole Yes/No debate has become overheated and commandeered by the extremists on both sides who have more than one axe to grind. Moral vigilantes going around assessing whether someone is a 'real' supporter of LBGTI causes or not: who's going to assess the assessors? Are the aforesaid assessors self-elected? Dangerous. If we are not very careful we risk surrendering our common sense to a self-elected bunch of moral prigs.
Edward Fido | 21 September 2017

There are a lot of things that are 'good business' John - safety, environmental responsibility, honesty, customer orientation, etc. Lots of organisations claim these; the punters sort out the real ones from the fakes pretty quickly. They'll do the same in this case. But voting YES has nothing to do with whether it will relieve the 'cares, trials and tribulations' of the LGBTI community any more than voting YES to give the Indigenous community vote all this years ago. It was just not right then to discriminate on the basis of a constructed notion of 'race' and it's just not right now to discriminate on the basis of a constructed notion of 'gender'.
Ginger Meggs | 21 September 2017

An interesting comparison Edward. What do you think were the causes of the Catholic/Protestant split and why do you think it just seemed to disappear in the 1960s? Maybe the split that you suggest we are in danger of creating has been there all along and maybe it's about to disappear too? The fear-mongers and warriors on both sides of both splits were/will be there to the bitter end but when the majority of ordinary people saw/see no difference between themselves and 'the other', what then?
Ginger Meggs | 21 September 2017

In my experience, workplaces that are quick to fly the rainbow flag and promote LBGTI awareness are the most likely to have the worst workplace practices overall with regards to adherence to basic worker rights (paying overtime, respecting break times, following dismissal law guidelines etc) In my experience these big corporate workplaces fly the rainbow/pink/purple flag to create a modern fairness smokescreen that hides the reality that they're undercutting and cheating their employees. If you'd like me to name names..... I will.
AURELIUS | 21 September 2017

Businesses, especially the larger ones that count anonymous shareholders as owners, have no business supporting or decrying any side of a public debate except on issues that affect their economic viability. Being constituted as a legal person doesn’t mean you become an actual person.
Roy Chen Yee | 24 September 2017

So, Roy, who's to decide what debates businesses can engage in or not? Domestic violence, suicide, mental health - all areas where businesses engage in advocacy where it doesn't affect their economic viability. Why is this any different? And who's going to stop them doing what they feel is right?
AURELIUS | 26 September 2017


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