Outdoor Retailer REI Offers Strong Endorsement of Marriage Equality

Sally Jewell’s blog post to REI employees

REI is taking a position in support of marriage equality—an issue that is important to the co-op as an inclusive organization and a welcoming place to work and do business.  A referendum on this issue will come before Washington State voters in November after passage through the Washington State Legislature earlier this year; marriage equality is also gaining momentum nationally.

Why is this important to the co-op?  Let me begin my answer with a personal perspective. A few weeks ago, my husband Warren and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.  We’ve been on a journey through life together since our first date on my 18th birthday, raising our two children, changing jobs, moving to various places, and witnessing the challenges and joys of our relationship and those of our parents, three of them through end-of-life.

For heterosexual couples, it is very easy to take for granted the legal and societal benefits of marriage—health care benefits, retirement benefits, insurance, death benefits, healthcare decisions, child-rearing and custody, and many more, not to mention the meaning of the commitment of marriage that was so vivid to us as we introduced each other as husband or wife for the first time.  As executrix of my mother’s estate, the legal benefits of marriage in estate and health issues became even clearer to me over the past year.

Marriage equality is important to the co-op because the benefits, legal clarity and societal understanding that Warren and I have enjoyed these past 34 years should be available to any two people who want to express their love and make a permanent commitment to each other that is so clearly provided for in the legal definition of marriage.

When I joined REI in 2000, I realized what it was like to work in a place that was inclusive of people without regard to their sexual orientation. This was not the case early in my career as an engineer, nor in the 19 years I spent in banking.  In those years, I witnessed the challenge that my colleagues experienced—where seemingly simple questions about relationships, children, or even weekend activities could become delicate and difficult to answer, because being “out” was dangerous to one’s career.

I am proud of the inclusive environment that REI creates for our LGBT teammates and customers, and recognize that this is a continuing journey for all of us as we strive to be increasingly inclusive across all of the dimensions of diversity. The investment we have made in inclusion training across the organization is an important step in this journey.

The Board, Leadership Forum and I are committed to ensuring that we continue to create an environment where people can be themselves and feel welcome at REI, including respecting religious and political diversity. I want to ensure that our colleagues and customers who have beliefs that run counter to the position the co-op is taking on this issue feel respected in their right to disagree. My own journey in understanding and coming to this position on marriage equality has been shaped by thoughtful, heartfelt discussions with people who have held a variety of differing perspectives.  I encourage you to engage each other in a discussion, practicing our core value of respect—“we listen to and learn from each other.”

Sixteen years from now, when I expect to be celebrating my 50th wedding anniversary, I sincerely hope that there will be millions more of a new generation for whom 50 years of marriage will become a possibility through these changes in our legal system.

I invite your reflections and thoughts on this blog post.