Double-Double, Day of Trouble
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Double-Double, Day of Trouble

It must have been a hard day for David Morelli.
The director of public relations for Tim Hortons certainly had his hands full yesterday as he was inundated with calls from activists and news organizations (including Torontoist) demanding to know where Tim Hortons stood on marriage equality. Did the Canadian doughnut super-giant really align itself with the National Organization for Marriage to sponsor an anti–gay marriage event in Rhode Island? Could the great purveyor of Timbits and French vanilla cappuccinos really be so resentful of Canadian same-sex marriage that they were joining the battle against equal marriage south of the border? Timmy, could it be true?

The uproar began after Paul Auger, a Rhode Island resident, noticed Tim Hortons listed as a sponsor for the National Organization for Marriage’s Celebrate Marriage and Family Day, scheduled for August 16. The event, which is scheduled to take place under the backdrop of the majestic Aldrich Mansion, is touted as “a great opportunity to take a stand for marriage as it was created: between a man and a woman. [Their] goal is to esteem marriage to its proper place in society and make a statement that Rhode Islanders believe strongly in this cherished institution.”
Auger then tipped off Wesli Dymoke at the Providence Daily Dose, who vented:

Yes, Tim Hortons. The Dunkin Donuts of Canada. You know, Canada—where same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since 2005 (and since 2003 in Tim’s home, Ontario). What in the world are they doing sponsoring something like this? Their site says that they support “local initiatives that make a difference”—such as little leagues, Halloween safety, and the like. And that they sponsor community initiatives with a focus on “helping children and supporting fundraising events for non-profit organizations and registered charities.” But not “those representing religious groups [or] political affiliates,” such as, well, how would you characterize a group like NOM?

The National Organization for Marriage was “founded in 2007 in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures. NOM serves as a national resource for marriage-related initiatives at the state and local level.” The organization skyrocketed into the public consciousness after its defence of beauty queen Carrie Prejean—the former Miss California who was stripped of her crown after she infamously claimed she only believed in opposite heterosexual marriage.

Many were surprised that Tim Hortons would appear as a corporate sponsor for the anti–gay marriage event.

Calls to petition and boycott Tim Hortons quickly followed as the company scrambled to respond. While the corporate website notes that “many Tim Hortons store owners are involved in their community and are proud to support a variety of programs and events on both a local and regional level,” it is also true that “nearly 95% of Tim Hortons locations are owned and operated by independent business people, so the final decision to make a donation is at the discretion of the store owner.”
Ultimately, by the afternoon, Tim Hortons rescinded its sponsorship agreement with a statement:

Recently, Tim Hortons was approached in Rhode Island to provide free coffee and products for a local event, as we do thousands of times a year across Canada and the United States.
For 45 years, Tim Hortons and its storeowners have practiced a philosophy of giving back to the communities in which we operate. As a company, our primary focus is on helping children and supporting fundraising events for non-profit organizations and registered charities. For this reason, Tim Hortons has not sponsored those representing religious groups, political affiliates or lobby groups.
It has come to our attention that the Rhode Island event organizer and purpose of the event fall outside of our sponsorship guidelines. As such, Tim Hortons can not provide support at the event.

Done deal, right? Good for Tim Hortons for clearing things up. You have to wonder though, how did Tims get in this position in the first place?
Christopher Plante, NOM’s executive director, seemed shocked at the interest in this story from Canada and told Torontoist that “an advisory board member dealt directly with the Tim Hortons branch in Rhode Island.” He also made a point to mention how “the event is open to the public with no prerequisite or pre-screening” and that [they were] “not a religious organization.”
Uh-huh. Something tells us that gays and lesbians still won’t be welcome.
Most notable about this story was the warp speed at which the blogosphere organized, rallied, and responded to the news. Through electronic grassroots campaigning, they forced a major multi-national company to scramble to enact damage control on a controversial decision mostly likely made by a rogue franchisee.
However, for Tims, it makes you wonder how successful their American expansion has been. While Tim Hortons recently received some good news with a quarterly sales up-tick, the expansion has not been without its bumps. One wonders what the fallout will be for their Rhode Island chapters, which currently operate forty-six out of the more than five hundred Tim Hortons restaurants in the United States. Something tells us this is not the publicity they need.
Ultimately, this is a victory for American LGBT bloggers and organizations who are fighting for their right to marry. It’s clear, after losing Proposition 8 this year, that they are eager and ready to mobilize.