Sound commercial practice for marketing and industrial relations reasons? Self-indulgent directorial virtue-signalling for status purposes? Fear of retaliation by activists for not publicly joining the same-sex marriage camp? Or simply using corporations to satisfy directors’ personal agendas? Which of these is the dominant reason for 798 Australian companies declaring their support on the SSM website for the Yes campaign? These cover the great bulk of Australian activity: all the big banks, merchant bankers, solicitors and accountancy firms, the stock exchange, insurance, credit cards, airports, hotel chains, cruise lines, retailers, super funds, internet servers, brewers, wine companies, power suppliers, fast foods and gambling. All do so in the name of Diversity, Inclusiveness and Equality – a DIE they want cast without caring about the potentially conflicting principles of freedom of speech and religion.
The greatest boost to corporate support beyond the foundation proselytisers (Qantas, Coca Cola, Apple, Target and Westpac) followed the publication of opinion polls indicating a substantial majority favouring Yes, adding to the already large list of subsidiaries and associates of US corporations abiding by directions from abroad. So there could be a sound business reason for evidencing ‘ethical behaviour’ since ‘virtue-signalling’ is designed to improve their public image. But, as the Conversation recently noted, there is little evidence that social responsibility initiatives necessarily result in positive outcomes for business, warning that they ‘may result in worse outcomes for society as a whole as businesses put their resources behind popular causes and ignore pressing issues such as inequality and stagnating wage growth’. Nevertheless, a Deloitte study suggests that ‘having a good reputation on marriage equality’ provides a positive impact on employees and customers, especially the younger demographic. ‘Ethics are being used as a way of marketing the concept that the company is acting for the greater good’. And backing ‘marriage equality’ is an easy proposition for business, costing very little to send out a press release.
But that’s not the most persuasive reason for corporate boards supporting Yes; it’s the fear of what will happen if they don’t. Once a respectable nucleus of companies had been formed, the pressure to join mounted as the prospect of hostile and disruptive activist action against those outside the camp became serious. With the weapon of social media, the Yes campaign has been able to terrorise boardrooms around Australia, and not simply against supporting the No case; failing to join Yes makes you a target as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s board found when it decided to stay neutral as it did ‘not feel it had the right to commit our stakeholders to one side or the other’. But after a brief social media assault, led by Leo Schofield’s invective-filled diatribe (craven SSO directors, antediluvian Catholics, ginned-up readers of the Australian, non-entities of the Christian right and cowardly parliamentarians), ‘the Board acknowledges that it misjudged the need for such an organisation – with its long commitment to inclusiveness, equality and fairness – publicly to proclaim its support for the Yes vote’. And Woolies, a long-time Yes campaigner, had to resort to panic PR when inundated with social media threats after its former CEO, Roger Corbett, committed the unforgiveable sin of defending the traditional view of marriage on ABC TV while nevertheless supporting ‘the perfect right of same sex partners to have a union that is exactly equal and should be treated as such by the community – but let’s not call it marriage’. The resulting outrage confirmed his stated concern that other prominent Australians had avoided coming out in favour of the No vote in fear of the sort of vilification that Margaret Court had endured. Yet the Corbett position, giving same sex couples the substance of what they claim to want – civil unions that remove unfair discrimination without destroying what millions of Australians regard as the sacrament of marriage – does not meet the much broader agendas of much of the Yes campaign. Curious how so many progressives who acknowledge the word ‘sacred’ in relation to Aboriginal issues, dismiss out of hand the Judeo-Christian sacred rite of traditional marriage.
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