Woolworths has been forced into damage control after the company’s former boss publicly backed a ‘No’ vote in a bizarre interview, sparking calls for a boycott.
The company supports same-sex marriage but chose to distance itself from former Woolworths managing director Roger Corbett on Tuesday after he appeared on ABC’s 7.30 to argue the case for a ‘No’ vote.
Mr Corbett said on Monday night that while he had many gay friends and respected homosexuals, he could not support a change in the law.
“A black man and a white man are equal, but they’re clearly different. A black man will never be a white man and vice versa,” the prominent businessman said.
“A man and a man, and a woman and a woman can have a similar relationship, but it’s different.
“So to me, and I think to a lot of the community, marriage and the family unit between a man and woman, remains paramount.”
Mr Corbett said same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because “a man and a woman together can create children” and that was “probably the best arrangement”.
Despite the fact that Mr Corbett no longer works at the company, some furious shoppers took to social media following the interview to declare they would never shop at the supermarket again.
Many appeared unaware that Mr Corbett was no longer in the position.
“Will not be shopping at Woolworths anymore due to Roger Corbett’s views on SS marriage and social equality,” wrote one user.
Another said: “Never shopping
@woolworths again. Bigots don’t get my money.”
In a statement posted to social media on Tuesday, Woolworths reiterated its support for same-sex marriage, describing it as “not just as as social but also a workplace issue”.
“We’re proud to embrace diversity and want to be a community where all our people are free to be themselves without fear of prejudice or discrimination,” the statement said.
The statement, which did not reference Mr Corbett by name, added: “Diversity means recognising and respecting our differences, including religious and political beliefs.”
The company has also proactively responded to dozens of social media users to inform them that Mr Corbett is “former employee and his views do not represent Woolworths”.
The former Woolworths managing director is also a one-time chairman of Fairfax Media and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the retail industry in 2003.
He told 7.30 that the current marriage laws were “not discriminatory in any way”, and that his views were based on “Judaeo-Christian tradition in society”.
“[They] have a perfect right to a union that is exactly equal and should be treated exactly equally in the community, but let’s call marriage marriage and let’s find an appropriate name for other relationships,” he said.
Mr Corbett’s comments were initially mocked and met with ridicule on Monday night, with one viewer suggesting the interview “creepy, and reminiscent of 1850”.
The controversy comes as a new Guardian/Essential poll showed support for the reform had fallen 4 per cent in a fortnight and opposition had risen 3 per cent, while a separate polling commissioned by the ‘No’ camp suggested a decline in ‘Yes’ support.
Elsewhere, a Canberra small business owner has fired an employee who backed a ‘No’ vote.
“Today I fired a staff member who made it public knowledge that they feel ‘it’s okay to vote no’,” Madlin Sims, who runs a party entertainment company, wrote on Facebook.
“Advertising your desire to vote no for SSM is, in my eyes, hate speech.”
‘No’ supporters reacted angrily to the firing, with Nationals MP George Christensen saying that “more of this will happen if the definition of marriage is changed”.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s declaration on Monday that religious freedom would be maintained in the case of a ‘Yes’ outcome.
“Please don’t listen to all of the other arguments about questions which are not on the survey, this survey is not ‘do you support religious freedom’,” he said.
‘No’ campaigners are divided over the issue, with Treasurer Scott Morrison disagreeing with former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard’s demand that the government propose specific religious protections before the campaign is over.