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2006-03-15 08:27

Poornima Gupta

The Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association first threatened a boycott in May, but suspended the move in June after several Ford dealers stepped in to broker a settlement.

In December, Ford decided to pull advertising for its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands from gay publications. It then reversed course after coming under fire from gay-rights activists for having conceded to pressure from the AFA.

The controversy comes at a difficult time for Ford, which is struggling to reverse a slide in market share and return its core automotive operations to profitability.

"Ford has every right to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups promoting homosexual marriage. But those who oppose homosexual marriage have every right not to buy automobiles made by Ford Motor Company," the AFA said in a statement on its website.

The group is headed by Don Wildmon, a United Methodist minister, and its Web site says it has 3 million "supporters."

Randy Sharp, AFA's director of special projects, told Reuters on Tuesday the group did not offer any formal membership, but over 3 million people had signed up on their website to receive e-mail updates.

He said the group's Ford boycott was being backed by 19 other groups, but gave no further information on them.

Ford spokesperson Kathleen Vokes said in response to the boycott announcement, "Ford is proud of its tradition of treating all with respect and we remain focused on that we do best, building and selling innovative cars and trucks worldwide."

Sharp said while other automakers "certainly aren't squeaky clean," the AFA was focusing its efforts on Ford because it "overwhelmingly supported the homosexual groups more than any other automaker."

Ford is not the first company to come under fire for its stance on homosexual rights. Other large companies including Microsoft Corp. and Walt Disney Co. have also found themselves facing demands from groups on both sides of the debate.

In declaring a one-year boycott of Ford, the AFA cited the car maker's sponsorship of gay-pride events in the United States and Britain and its practice of requiring employees to undergo diversity training.

"The goal of every homosexual organization supported by Ford is to get homosexual marriage legalized," the AFA said.

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