Less than a week after announcing that it was going quiet on its stance supporting equal marriage in Australia, telecom giant Telstra has announced a complete turnaround.
Telstra was an early supporter of the Australian Marriage Equality (AME) campaign. However, last week it said that it would refrain from further public debate on the issue now that a plebiscite was to take place on the issue: ‘Our people and stakeholders can contribute to this process and out of respect, it is important we allow them to voice their own views.’
Commentators believe the move was prompted by correspondence Telstra received from the Catholic Church, threatening to withdraw its business. Telstra provides services to Catholic Schools across Australia.
The church has written to many of the companies supporting AME and questioned whether they are ‘overstepping their purpose’ in making their views on marriage equality known.
Telstra’s announcement was met with criticism and threats of boycotts – with some taking to social media to say that they were going to switch providers.
Others pointed out that if the Church did terminate its deal with Telstra, it would be unable to go with Australia’s other big telecom companies; both Optus and Vodaphone have also pledged their support for marriage equality.
Telstra CEO Andy Penn has now told SBS that the company has had a re-think.
‘Last week we advised that out of respect for the individual our view had been that we would not add further to the debate on marriage equality ahead of a plebiscite or parliamentary debate. It is clear that rather than Telstra stepping back we should in fact step forward and support our view for marriage equality and so that is what we will do.
‘By renewing our active position, we acknowledge that we are at equal risk of inflaming a new debate but it is the right thing to do. It also remains very important that we continue to recognize and respect the right of the individual to hold their own view on this issue.’
Responding to the comments, Janine Middleton of AME said in a statement, ‘Australian Marriage Equality values the support of all the businesses, CEOs and staff who are committed to making marriage equality a reality for all Australians.
‘When so many Australian business leaders support marriage equality, it sends a powerful message of their commitment to a more open, inclusive and respectful work environment to their employees and customers.’
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney issuing the following statement through a spokesperson.
‘It is pleasing to know that Telstra recognizes the right of all individuals to hold their own view on the issue of same-sex marriage.
‘The original question was whether it is fair and reasonable for a company to support a particular view on behalf of all their stakeholders.
‘Church leaders have every right to participate in respectful and open discussion on all important social issues and public policy and in this case we renew our position on marriage.’