BENTONVILLE, AR, August 29, 2013 ( – The world’s largest retailer has quietly notified its more than 1.2 million U.S. employees that beginning next year, full-time workers can share company benefits any domestic partner of their choosing, whether gay or straight, married or unmarried.

Arkansas-based Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, sent out a postcard this week announcing plans to let employees share benefits like health insurance and life insurance.

In a memo explaining the decision, the company said it was trying to keep pace with the competition, stating that “of 30 retail competitors, all but two (Publix and Stop and Shop union plan) provide either same- or opposite-sex domestic partner coverage.”

The company also blamed ObamaCare and the recent Supreme Court decision striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act for its new policies, saying that offering coverage for everyone was easier than trying to navigate the newly complicated legal landscape surrounding health coverage and gay “marriage”nin the United States.


Still, the decision to offer benefits coverage to gay and unmarried couples surprised many longtime observers of the company, which is known for its conservative values and family-friendly policies, like its ban on obscene lyrics in the music it sells.

“Naturally [we’re] disappointed,” said President Tom Wildmon of the American Family Association, which had previously applauded the company for its pledge to take a neutral stand on cultural issues like gay “marriage.’”

“It validates a lifestyle which we think corporate America should discourage rather than promote,” he said.

Lucas Handy, an openly homosexual man from Iowa who used to work for Walmart, told USA Today the decision “shocked me completely.”

Nonetheless, Handy, who was fired and now volunteers with OUR Walmart, a labor union-backed group critical of the company, said he was pleased. “It’s wonderful, freaking awesome if the company keeps its promise on this issue,” the 22-year-old activist said.

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Chad Griffin, president of the homosexual lobbying group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Walmart’s decision is “a cultural signal that equality for LGBT people is the simplest of mainstream values.”

Given the corporation’s massive size and cultural reach – about two-thirds of Americans shop there every month – that signal may well be heard around the world. Some experts are saying Walmart’s decision to subsidize gay relationships could be the domino that topples the few remaining holdouts in the retail industry.

“You can go to your board, and all of a sudden you’re not swimming against the stream as much as you were yesterday,” Wallace Hopp, associate dean of faculty and research at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday. “They’re so big that everything they do sets an example.”