KENT, Wash. — Outdoor retailer REI, founded by a group of Pacific Northwest mountaineers in 1938, on Monday announced it has taken “a position in support of marriage equality.”
The announcement came in a blog post to REI’s 11,000 employees by CEO Sally Jewel, who wrote, “REI is taking a position in support of marriage equality — an issue that is important to the co-op as an inclusive organization and a welcoming place to work and do business.”
Jewell said that “sixteen years from now, when I expect to be celebrating my 50th wedding anniversary, I sincerely hope that there will be millions more of a new generation for whom 50 years of marriage will become a possibility through these changes in our legal system.”
A few weeks ago, my husband Warren and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. We’ve been on a journey through life together since our first date on my 18th birthday, raising our two children, changing jobs, moving to various places, and witnessing the challenges and joys of our relationship and those of our parents, three of them through end-of-life.
For heterosexual couples, it is very easy to take for granted the legal and societal benefits of marriage—health care benefits, retirement benefits, insurance, death benefits, healthcare decisions, child-rearing and custody, and many more, not to mention the meaning of the commitment of marriage that was so vivid to us as we introduced each other as husband or wife for the first time. As executrix of my mother’s estate, the legal benefits of marriage in estate and health issues became even clearer to me over the past year.
Marriage equality is important to the co-op because the benefits, legal clarity and societal understanding that Warren and I have enjoyed these past 34 years should be available to any two people who want to express their love and make a permanent commitment to each other that is so clearly provided for in the legal definition of marriage.
When I joined REI in 2000, I realized what it was like to work in a place that was inclusive of people without regard to their sexual orientation. This was not the case early in my career as an engineer, nor in the 19 years I spent in banking. In those years, I witnessed the challenge that my colleagues experienced—where seemingly simple questions about relationships, children, or even weekend activities could become delicate and difficult to answer, because being “out” was dangerous to one’s career.
I am proud of the inclusive environment that REI creates for our LGBT teammates and customers, and recognize that this is a continuing journey for all of us as we strive to be increasingly inclusive across all of the dimensions of diversity.
“We are so proud to have REI take this powerful step in endorsing the freedom to marry and our effort to Approve Referendum 74,” said Zach Silk, Campaign Manager for Washington United for Marriage (WUM), the broad, bipartisan statewide coalition working to defend the state’s new marriage equality law.
“REI is one of Washington’s iconic companies and it’s woven into many of our lives. Whether we’re on a day hike, paddling in a kayak, or pitching a tent with our kids, we’re generally doing it with gear we got at REI. As a result, this endorsement will register with a lot of people and we’re very grateful to have REI’s support,” said Silk.
The National Organization for Marriage was quick to denounce REI for its position in support of marriage equality.
“REI is the latest corporation to take a stand against biological parenthood by supporting redefining marriage,” read a statement issued by NOM affiliate, the Ruth Institute.
With annual sales of $1.8 Billion, REI has nearly 5 million co-op members nationwide and has been on Fortune’s Best Places to Work ranking every year since the inception of the list.
Through Referendum 74, voters in November will decide whether to approve or reject same-sex marriage in the state, which was passed by the state legislature earlier this year, and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Feb. 13.
Among the leading business supporters of Approve 74 and WUM are Nike, Starbucks, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Alcoa, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Vulcan.