Target, the retailer once beloved by the gay community until the infamous donation to an anti-gay candidate for Governor of Minnesota, has once again found itself on the outs with the gays. This time, it’s over the company’s lawsuit against “Canvass for a Cause,” a pro-gay organization that has been speaking with customers outside of Target stores in California.
The judge in the case issued his ruling on Thursday, and as with many things I write about on GatorUptown.com, I have mixed feelings on the subject.
At issue was whether Target had the legal right to enforce its policies that seek “to provide a distraction-free shopping environment” for guests at Target stores. Canvass for a Cause has been approaching shoppers outside of stores in California since last October, seeking to discuss issues like gay marriage and collect signatures on petitions, etc.
In a statement published last week, the company sought to emphasize that this wasn’t an anti-gay stance:
“Target’s long-standing policy is that we do not permit solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause or issue being represented.”
In his decision on Thursday, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton said that Canvas for a Cause may continue its work outside Target stores in California, but they can only canvass one entrance at a time (to avoid blocking access to the store) and must stay 30 feet away from the entrance at all times.
So here’s my dilemma… Obviously I’m glad that there are groups out there seeking to educate the public on issues about gay rights, and I hope that some people walked away from their Target experience feeling inspired to help stand up for their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) friends and family. But I respect Target’s stance here, that they don’t want shoppers to be pestered on their property.
Three cheers for the gay rights activists, but what if the situation was reversed? What if it was the National Organization for Marriage out there lambasting those wicked gays that want to pervert the sanctity of traditional marriage? Or, heaven forbid, those rabid nutbags from the Westboro Baptist Church, wanting to tell Target shoppers that they’re all going to Hell for this or that?
I’m all for freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and so on. But Target should be able to enforce consistently applied policies on their private property, when those policies treat everyone the same and give all shoppers there the same rights. And besides, if I’m making a Target run, it’s not because I’m seeking some enlightenment on political or social policy issues — it’s because I need toilet paper and Lean Cuisine, and I just want to make my purchases and go home.
I worry about the “slippery slope” here, where other groups may find themselves motivated to go stake out a local Target store and advocate for other issues, perhaps issues that I’m less sympathetic towards. I worry that gay rights activists are cheering about this victory, but aren’t thinking about the potential consequences.