Marriott International, the hotel mega-chain that once counted Mitt Romney as a corporate board member — and whose owner is among the candidate's top donors — has launched an agressive marketing campaign targeting gay and lesbian travelers.
The campaign, titled "Be You, With Us," is promoted on the company's website with photos of smiling same-sex couples and a guide to gay pride festivals throughout the country. It offers special deals for gay couples, as well as a sweepstakes that will award grand prize winners a trip to the 2013 gay pride events in either New York, San Francisco, or Berlin. On Marriott's web page advertising the campaign, there's a section devoted to wedding accommodations for gay couples.
Romney's gay rights rhetoric was more measured than most of his Republican rivals' in the primaries, but he remains strongly opposed to same-sex marriage and civil unions. What's more, his campaign drew criticism from the LGBT community last month when an embattled gay spokesman quit, under fire from social conservatives. (The campaign said at the time the aide's sexuality was unrelated to his departure.)
But the gay-friendly marketing effort on the part of a conservative company with close ties to Romney — and a Mormon-run business that offers a free copy of the Book of Mormon in every room — reflects the increasingly difficult politics of the Republican platform on LGBT issues, said conservative gay rights advocates.
"As a former business leader and Marriott board member, Governor Romney should recognize that inclusion wins in business and in politics," said Christian Berle, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans. "Governor Romney's campaign needs to fight for every vote in this election, and that includes tens of millions of LGBT Americans and their allies."
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said it's unsurprising that J.W. Mariott Jr., the company's owner who has donated heavily to Romney, would approve such a campaign.
"GOP donors support Republican candidates because they know that conservative policies are good for our country, but they are no different from anyone else in America," said LaSalvia. "All Americans are thinking more and more about how policies affect their gay friends and family, so that's why we are seeing so many them support gay organizations and causes."
The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.