TORONTO – After an online outcry, Tim Hortons (TSX:THI) is distancing itself from an upcoming Rhode Island event designed to “take a stand” against same-sex marriage.
Brochures for this Sunday’s “Celebrate Marriage and Family Day” in Warwick, R.I., list the popular coffee-and-donut chain as one of its sponsors.
On Monday, Tim Hortons posted a statement on its website saying it would no longer provide coffee for the celebration as it runs afoul of its guidelines to not support “religious groups, political affiliates, or lobby groups.”
“Tim Hortons and its store owners have always welcomed all families and communities to its restaurants and will continue to do so,” the statement said.
“We apologize for any misunderstanding or inconvenience this may have caused.”
The Aug. 16 event is being put on by the National Organization for Marriage, a U.S. non-profit founded in 2007 “in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage.”
The celebration – billed as “a great opportunity to take a stand for marriage as it was created: between a man and a woman” – will feature food, worship music, and a chance for couples to renew their wedding vows.
Chris Plante, executive director of NOM’s Rhode Island chapter, said Tim Hortons had agreed to provide free coffee for about 250 people.
He said Tim Hortons had been “bullied by a vocal minority” into pulling out of an apolitical celebration that was “open to all,” including same-sex couples.
“My concern and my disappointment is that my event has been tainted as religious or political. Neither of those are correct,” said Plante.
“The event itself was not designed to be political, as a rally would be.”
While same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005, in Rhode Island – like many U.S. states – such unions are still prohibited.
The fact a Canadian institution like Tim Hortons would be involved in the event raised the ire of bloggers and online denizens both inside the country and out.
Wesli Dymoke, a member of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, blogged Sunday about the Tim Hortons connection for the Providence Daily Dose.
Dymoke said yesterday that while she was originally “dismayed” by Tim Hortons’ actions, she was glad the company changed its tune.
“This was inconsistent with my understanding of who Tim Hortons are,” said Dymoke.
“It either had to be some kind of mistake or it had to be a local franchisee just popping in.”
As well, a petition at Change.Org garnered more than 1,600 signatures in 17 hours.
Tim Hortons remained silent Monday about the nature of the sponsorship, but Plante said the deal was struck with “an area office” and not a specific franchise.
Akim Larcher, director of policy and research for same-sex advocacy group Egale Canada, said the group welcomes the company’s about-face but their stance “should be a lot stronger.”
“Someone from Tim Hortons needs to come out publicly and make their position very clear,” said Larcher.
Tim Hortons has three dozen locations in Rhode Island.