Contrary to initial reports, Tim Hortons' sponsorship of an anti-gay marriage picnic in Rhode Island wasn't the work of a rogue franchise.
The organizer of the picnic, Christopher Plante, says "we worked with an area office, above the franchise level." He says a board member from his group, the National Organization for Marriage, approached the state's regional Tim Hortons headquarters and asked them to supply free coffee for the Aug 16 event.
"We went through normal social business networks," Plante says. "They jumped on it."
Tim Hortons has since cancelled its sponsorship of the event
, after a massive web campaign convinced the Canadian-based company to honour its corporate policy of refusing religious and political affiliations. Besides a short written statement, the company is refusing to comment.
"I got a cultural education in how important Tim Hortons is to Canada," says Plante. "I don't think it would have been such a big deal if Tim Hortons wasn't such an iconic company."
As a result of the decision, Plante says coffee will no longer be served at this weekend's event. "Time is of the essence," he says. "Finding another sponsoring vendor is out of the question."
The gay marriage opponent doesn't hold a grudge against Tims, though. "We respect their decision and wish them the best. We have no plans for a retaliatory boycott."
Instead, he blames gay marriage advocates. "This is not about Tim Hortons," says Plante. "This is about the organized approach to squash all private and public comments on marriage."
Plante insists that his event will be non-religious and non-political. The invitation, however, says "the Marriage Day celebration will include live worship." It also says, "This is a great opportunity to take a stand for marriage as it was created: between a man and a woman ... and make a statement that Rhode Islanders believe strongly in this cherished institution."
Advocates of gay marriage, including Paul Auger, the "atheist activist" who first called attention to the issue, and Wesli Dymoke, the Rhode Island blogger who wrote the first article about it, both plan to attend the event.
"It's free and open to the public and I am in favour of marriage and family," says Dymoke. He adds, "I have a somewhat broader concept than the organizers."
"We knew full well in opening this event to the public that we were inviting people who might oppose us," says Plante. "If they choose to come and enjoy the food and beautiful venue, they're more than welcome. They're not welcome to come and protest. We'll expect them to be respectful and treat us with dignity as we would do with them."
Plante says there's a Tim Hortons coffee shop in the same building as his office, and he'll be picking up a coffee there in the morning. But he won't be enjoying a double-double at his upcoming picnic.