NEW YORK -- The Hallmark Channel, reversing what it called a “wrong decision,” said Sunday it will reinstate commercials featuring same-sex couples that it had pulled following a complaint from a conservative group.
The earlier decision by Crown Media, Hallmark's parent company, to pull several ads for the wedding planning site Zola featuring two brides kissing at the altar had launched a storm of protest. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and William Shatner criticized the move and the hashtag #BoycottHallmarkChannel was trending on Twitter at one point.
“The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused," said a statement issued Sunday evening by Hallmark Cards CEO Mike Perry. “Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. ... We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused.”
Zola, the wedding planning site that made the ads, said it was relieved that the decision to pull them had been reversed. In an email to The Associated Press, the company said it would be in touch with Hallmark “regarding a potential return to advertising.”
“We are humbled by everyone who showed support not only for Zola, but for all LGBTQ couples and families who express their love on their wedding day, and every day," said a statement Sunday evening from the company's chief marketing officer, Mike Chi.
The controversy erupted during one of the Hallmark Channel's busiest seasons, when its slate of holiday programming turns it into one of television's most-watched networks. Between Dec. 2-8, Hallmark was the No. 3 network in prime-time viewership, behind Fox News and ESPN.
The LGBT advocacy group GLAAD also expressed relief at the reversal. Its president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said Hallmark's “decision to correct its mistake sends an important message to LGBTQ people and represents a major loss for fringe organizations like One Million Moms, whose sole purpose is to hurt families like mine.”
It was a complaint by One Million Moms, part of the American Family Association, that had led to the initial decision to pull the the Zola ads. A post on the group's website Saturday said that Crown Media CEO Bill Abbott had spoken by telephone with the group and "reported the advertisement aired in error." It also said: “The call to our office gave us the opportunity to confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family-friendly network." The group had not commented on the reversal as of late Sunday night.
Zola had submitted six ads, with four including a lesbian couple. After Hallmark pulled those ads, but not two featuring only opposite-sex couples, Zola withdrew its remaining ads.
Molly Biwer, senior vice president for public affairs at Hallmark, said in an interview Sunday night that from the time the initial decision had been made, “Crown Media had been in agony over the hurt that this had caused. Hallmark has an unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
She added that the reversal, and not the original decision, “truly reflects who we are as a company. We celebrate all families.”
Hallmark's statement said the network will be "working with GLAAD to better represent the LGBTQ community" and would be reaching out to Zola to reestablish its partnership.
“Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences,” Perry said.
In one of the pulled ads, two brides stand at the altar and wonder aloud whether their wedding would be going more smoothly if they had used a planning site like Zola. The lighthearted ad ends with the just-married couple sharing a quick kiss.
DeGeneres had quickly assailed the original decision, asking on Twitter: “Isn't it almost 2020?” Actress Sandra Bernhard, who played one of the first openly bisexual characters on network TV in “Roseanne," had also criticized the move.
“All the groovy gay ladies i know won't be watching your Christmas schlock," she wrote on Twitter.
The Hallmark decision was also mocked on “Saturday Night Live,” and Netflix US tweeted stills from a TV show and movie that it labeled “Titles Featuring Lesbians Joyfully Existing And Also It's Christmas Can We Just Let People Love Who They Love.”