By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 6/6/2005 5:57:09 PM ET 2005-06-06T21:57:09

A conservative Christian activist group said Monday that it had suspended its boycott of Ford Motor Co. after Ford dealers promised to lobby the automaker to address the group’s concerns about its support for gay and lesbian rights.

The American Family Association, which is based in Tupelo, Miss., announced the boycott only a week ago, calling Ford “the company which has done the most to affirm and promote the homosexual lifestyle.” Ford extends benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, offers to make donations to gay advocacy groups when their members buy specific automobiles, sponsors gay pride celebrations and advertises in gay-oriented publications, part of what it says is an important diversity outreach.

The AFA, which recently ended a nine-year boycott of Walt Disney Co., said more than 110,000 people signed its pledge to boycott Ford for the company’s support of same-sex marriage.

On Monday, the AFA said in a statement that it had met with a group of Ford dealers who it said asked for time to see whether the organization’s complaints “could be addressed by the dealers in cooperation with officials from Ford Motor Company.” It said it would suspend the action until Dec. 31.

Ford confirms meeting
Ford said Monday in a statement that it was “pleased” with the decision to suspend the boycott and that it anticipated “an open dialogue with the AFA that leads to greater mutual understanding.” A spokesman said the dealers informed the company that they met with the AFA on Sunday.

Ford acknowledged last week that it had heard from dealers and customers on both sides of the divide but said it was too soon to assess what impact a boycott might have. It said at the time that it was proud of its commitment to diversity, and its statement Monday reiterated that it “values all people — regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences.” 

Officials at the AFA could not be reached for comment.

The AFA frequently encourages boycotts or letter-writing campaigns against companies that stray from its definition of traditional American values, generally for supporting gay and lesbian rights or for advertising it considers indecent.

It is currently calling for action against the Carl’s Jr. hamburger chain (to protest its racy ad featuring Paris Hilton), Kraft Foods (for its sponsorship of the 2006 Gay Games), Mary Kay Cosmetics and Old Navy stores (for advertising on ABC’s prime-time soap opera “Desperate Housewives”) and NutriSystem Inc., the weight-loss company (for airing its own salacious TV ad).

In more than 20 years of activism, the organization has also taken on Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; the Crest toothpaste, Tide detergent and Pampers diapers brands of Procter & Gamble Co.; Volkswagen AG; Clorox Co.; MTV Networks; Abercrombie & Fitch Co.; Kmart Co.; Burger King Corp.; American Airlines; and S.C. Johnson & Son, makers of the Windex, Ziploc, Pledge, Glade and Edge brands.

Last month, it ended its nine-year battle against Disney , which it launched because of the company’s “attitude, arrogance and embrace of the homosexual lifestyle.” Disney said it never made any policy changes in response to the boycott, and it reported higher earnings, citing increased attendance at its theme parks and strong performance from its film studio and ABC television network.

The AFA said it was moving on because “we have made our point.”

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