MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Taft is a businessman and a Republican, great-grandson to President William Howard Taft and heir to an Ohio Republican dynasty. But it was Gov. Mark Dayton whom he spoke alongside at a recent fundraiser in favor of gay rights and against Minnesota’s marriage amendment.

What put him on a stage with the Democratic governor? Taft thinks voting to ban gay marriage in the state Constitution would be bad for business.

“I’m doing it because I truly do believe that keeping Minnesota competitive depends a great deal on attracting and retaining the best talent the world has to offer,” Taft, CEO of RBC Wealth Management U.S., told The Associated Press during an interview in his 19th-floor, downtown Minneapolis office.

Opponents of the marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot see natural allies in the state’s prominent companies, long seen as integral to preserving the state’s fabled quality of life. But the symbolic and financial firepower of companies like Target, General Mills and others with a history of supporting gay causes may not be so forthcoming.

The Associated Press contacted representatives for the 13 Minnesota-based Fortune 500 companies that currently offer domestic partner benefits — nearly three-quarters of the state’s complete Fortune 500 roster — and only one, a spokeswoman for Little Canada-based medical device maker St. Jude Medical, said the company would publicly oppose the amendment.

That’s not what amendment opponents might have hoped for. “It’s our preference that employers who are committed to fairness and equality for all their employees would find opposing the amendment a reasonable position,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing for the Human Rights Campaign, the national gay-rights group that’s already engaging in Minnesota’s battle.

“We do not believe the proposed constitutional amendment is in the best interests of economic and jobs growth in Minnesota,” said Rachel Ellingson, vice president for corporate communications at St. Jude Medical. “We believe that it is important for the state to be viewed as inclusive in order to recruit and retain the best talent.”

The ability to harness corporate wealth into donations will be a key goal of both supporters and opponents of the marriage amendment. With incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar so far facing little serious opposition, the campaign could end up as the state’s priciest in 2012: after initial predictions of a $10 million campaign, one activist who will be heavily involved with fundraising recently doubled the stakes.

“There’s an expectation it could be $10 million on each side, $20 million total,” said Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of the gay rights group Project 515. “I think that’s not out of the realm of reality.”

But it won’t be with donations directly from Minnesota corporations. Even St. Jude Medical, Ellingson said, would not donate money as a company to defeat the amendment.

Of the other 12 companies, representatives for eight told the AP their companies would not take a public position. Those companies are Target, General Mills, Best Buy, Supervalu, Land O’Lakes, Medtronic, Xcel Energy and Ecolab. The other four companies — 3M, Ameriprise Financial, UnitedHealth Group and U.S. Bancorp — did not respond to several inquiries.

“Target is committed to an inclusive culture among our team members and throughout the community,” spokeswoman Jessica Carlson said. “Target does not have a public position on the proposed amendment, but we are encouraging our team members to exercise the right to vote.”

The Minneapolis-based retailing giant learned the hard way last year that jumping into the political fray can carry a downside — particularly when it touches on social issues with deeply felt convictions on both sides. The company donated $150,000 to a business-oriented political fund that in turn supported Tom Emmer, the conservative Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota with a lengthy record of opposing gay-rights causes, sparking an uproar by the HRC and other gay-rights groups that considered Target an ally for previously donating to their causes.

But ensuing attempts to mollify gay rights groups triggered whispers of a backlash by more conservative customers. “You’re never going to make everyone happy with any one position,” said Sainz, the HRC official.

In addition to offering domestic partner benefits, a few of the companies staying neutral in the gay marriage fight have long records of giving money to gay-rights causes. In 2011, five of the 13 companies were corporate sponsors of the Twin Cities gay pride festival: Target, Best Buy, General Mills, Medtronic and U.S. Bancorp through its subsidiary, U.S. Bank.

Several of the Minnesota companies to respond said it would violate company policy to take a position on policy issues not linked to their area of business. “We typically do not take positions on ballot questions that do not concern energy policy,” said Steve Roalstad, director of media relations for Xcel Energy.

Even Taft’s company, RBC Wealth Management U.S., is taking that approach by citing its own policy of taking positions only on financial policy matters. But Taft himself has agreed to serve on the steering committee of Minnesotans United for All Families, the coalition opposed to the amendment; he said part of his role would be to convince business leaders to donate money and time to defeat it.

Taft himself donated $10,000. He said his own views on gay rights issues began to shift after his daughter, now 31, came out as gay when she was still in high school. He said he wouldn’t take issue with any Minnesota companies that stay on the sidelines — but said he thought it was a bad business decision.

“At some point you have to decide, as an individual and as a corporation, what do you stand for?” Taft said. “And you have to be true to that.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (36)
  1. Jack says:

    Why even comment, its up to the people now. Let them vote and live with it.

    1. Patrick PatPat Lilja says:

      Because it should not be up to the people.

      1. Jack says:

        Everything is up to the people baby….we rule.

        1. kate says:

          Yea, we should be able to discriminate against minorities. It is the way this country is.
          Careful, you may find out that even though gay people are a minority, the majority of people think discrimination is wrong.

  2. Adam says:

    No matter how you feel about the issue, the ban should be deemed unconstitutional. How can you justify having a majority vote decide someones right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness? Leave it up to the church if they want to marry same sex couples. And if they want to marry in front of the courts, why should the government care? I think that no matter what happens in each state, someday the US Supreme court will end up hearing the matter. Hopefully the conservative justices can look past their religion and decide based on the Constitution alone. I will be voting the amendment down. No matter my feelings I can’t get in the way of one’s life.

  3. Jake says:

    Who cares what Taft says?

  4. shirl says:

    Minnesota businesses should not comment. There business is to provide certain services to all customer or persons in Minnesota for profit. They should be completely neutral when it comes to politics and politicians who believe they can dictate, in a democracy, the behavior of and deny the rights to people they disagree with. Shame on this country and its so-called leaders.

  5. Tom says:

    Why should anybody care if two gay people want to get married? Social conservatives have this bug up thier ass about who should and who should walk down the aisle. Their reason of course is because marriage has been between one man and one woman for 5000 years. Well time does evolves, society changes and many in society adapt to change very well but you will always have these social conservatives who will never change for anything. And so instead of embracing change they want to hold the rest of us back.

    If companies wish to back the gay marriage they have every right to do so. And they choose not to endorse gay marriage then that is their right. Either way they will face some backlash.

    And as far as the Catholic Church goes they should worry about cleaning up their own backyard instead of worrying about what the rest of us are doing.

  6. Mr. Meat says:

    I’d rather have a bug up my ass instead of something else. The people of this state will determine it just like Odumba Care. You don’t like it here move to Cuba or Iran.

    1. Tom says:

      @ Mr. Meat

      Then don’t stick “something” else up your butt that is your choice! Why should you get to decide who does and who doesn’t walk down the aisle? Do gay people or anybody else for that matter decide for you what you can or cannot do in your personal life? I doubt it!

  7. Walter says:

    If two men want to have sex with each other, I don’t care.

    But when the expect me to pretend they are married and fork over my tax dollars for their financial benefit, I say no.

    This all about spousal benefits. It’s about money.

    1. Adam says:

      what tax dollars are you referring to?

      1. Tom says:

        @ Adam

        That is good question!

      2. Dah says:

        Are you unaware of marriage tax credits?

        1. Tom says:

          @ Dah

          Yes I am aware of the marriage tax credits! Are you trying to say that only straight people should be allowed to have this? I thought we lived in a FREE society that everybody is created equal and not just a certain select few? But I guess to social conservatives if your not nutty and delusional like they are you are the one with the problem!

          1. GET REAL says:

            Yes. Straight couples populate or society and ensure our future. You on the other hand are parasites or free-riders and distribute disease with your un-natural actions.

            1. jackactionhero says:

              What should be done with gays?

              Should they be allowed to be Kindergarten teachers?

              Should they be allowed to be Pediatricians?

              Daycare providers?

              What else should gays be banned from doing?

            2. Tom says:

              @ Get Real

              I am not a gay person! But i do believe that gay people have just as right to marry as you do or any straight couple! If you have a problem with gay people marrying that is your problem to deal with but that doesn’t mean that should keep a gay couple from marrying! Should everybody else be banned from doing something just because it offends you? No it shouldn’t. And by the way not every straight couple chooses to have kids whether it is for personal or medical reasons. Should those couples be banned from marrying? No they shouldn’t!

              And by the way STD’s is not just for gay people straight people can get STD’s as well!

              You have the name “Get Real” but you don’t live in “Reality”

      3. Rags says:

        Are you unaware of spousal benefits provided to government employees that are paid for by taxpayers?

  8. Murph says:

    Geez,isn’t there something better to bicker about?High gas prices,that cause everything else to go up!What about this global warming weather and the damage it is causing around the world! What about politicians who are allergic to telling the truth.What about banks who get money for practically nothing and then charge those who need it most well over 10 percent to use it! The whole thing is kitty wumpus and none of these elected officials will say “YES” to helping people out! The Party of NO! ,now wants to become the decade of NO! and expects you and me to be dumb enough to help them do it!

  9. Ugg says:

    When you pull out you have poop on your dongs, um gross.

    1. Tom says:

      @ Ugg

      Good Grief! Then don’t do it if it grosses you out!

    2. jackactionhero says:

      How do you know? I can only assume either you’ve had to wipe yours off, or someone behind you had to clean theirs. Care to admit to either?

      1. @JackactionZero says:

        The mystery is solved the least intelligent commentator ever jackactionZero is a pro peter puffer, you keep slamming and reaching around your life partner, i’l enjoy being with a woman and a part of the human race. By the way you’re probably the Architect since you only comment during business hours just like he always did

        1. jackactionhero says:

          I have to admit – that’s pretty impressive that you picked me out like that, just based on that.

          I’m not gay, by the way, and your insults really don’t mean anything to me.

  10. Justwondering says:

    Instead of you may now kiss the bride, do they say you may now push your husbands dinner back into him?

    1. jackactionhero says:

      Do you think that’s an issue you’ll soon have to find an answer to?

  11. Andrew Dice says:

    Are you guys Kneel and Bob? Or is that what you guys do?

  12. j speedbag 64 says:

    adam and steve eh……go back in the closet……

    1. Tom says:

      @ J speedbag 64

      How about Adam and Fr. John? Should the priest be protected?

  13. james2 says:

    Newsflash – We are not a Democracy, we are a Republic. The difference is that in a Democracy it’s winner take all. In a Republic the majority cannot act as a tyranny over a minority. So, equal rights will always be tempered even if it goes to court. Even the most staunch social activist conservative knows this. In the end, the Gay Jim Crow laws will go down as a historical blunder. The amendments will be repealed. Have a great day!

  14. A sickened mom says:

    Even though i don’t think it is normal, I can on some levels except their behavior. But being gay is not the same as being straight AKA Normal. And stories like the one I am attaching are exactly why so many people have an issue with the gay community. When and if they stand up and say that things like this are wrong. Then maybe others will give them a chance.


    1. jackactionhero says:

      Nobody cares if you “accept” it or if you don’t. Whether you accept it or not, you have no right to tell another person that they can or can’t do what they want. See how that works?

  15. kara says:

    SO Why aren’t the OWS thugs out protesting in front of Tafts business?? That’s right!! They Only go what is Best for Themselves!! Just like this perversion! Who says it is right for me when I am Against perversions of family values????

    1. jackactionhero says:

      You only get to decide what’s best for yourself, Kara. You don’t get to decide for others. Period.

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