American Family Association Withdraws from Wal-Mart Boycott

A US conservative group withdrew objections on calling on supporters to boycott Wal-Mart's post-Thanksgiving Day sales to protest the retailer's support of gay-rights groups.

The American Family Association said it was pleased that Wal-Mart had pledged in a statement to stay away from controversial causes. The groups had been asking supporters to stay away from Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday, two of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Wal-Mart said it would make changes in the way it contributed to such groups, saving funds only for specific causes it supported, such as workplace equality, rather than giving unrestricted gifts.

While stressing its support for diversity and nondiscrimination, Wal-Mart said in its statement that it "will not make corporate contributions to support or oppose highly controversial issues unless they directly relate to our ability to serve our customers."

According to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams, the company's statement resulted primarily from concerns expressed by customers and employees, not from the boycott threat.

There was no immediate word from a second conservative group, Operation Save America, on whether it was reconsidering its plans for prayer-and-preaching rallies outside many Wal-Mart stores on Friday.

Wal-Mart paid US$25,000 this summer to become a member of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and donated US$60,000 to Out and Equal, which promotes gay rights advances in the workplace.

Conservative leaders had viewed Wal-Mart's actions as a betrayal of its own traditions.

"This has been Christian families' favourite store, and now they're giving in, sliding down the slippery slope so many other corporations have gone down," said the Rev Flip Benham of Operation Save America. "They're all being extorted by the radical homosexual agenda."

Justin Nelson, president of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said earlier Tuesday that conservative activists had misrepresented his business-oriented group as a leading advocate of gay marriage in order to tarnish Wal-Mart.

"Their campaign has not been to educate, but to mislead," he said.
Wal-Mart ranks in the middle among companies rated for workplace policies toward gays by the Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group. Scores of companies now have a perfect 100 rating, while Wal-Mart's rating has risen from 14 in 2002 to 65 this year as it added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination code and offered some domestic-partner benefits.

Tim Wildmon, the American Family Association's president, said Wal-Mart had been responsive to conservative pressure on a different issue, approving use of the word "Christmas" in advertising and employee greetings this season after shifting to a "happy holidays" phrasing last year.