Four ads for the wedding planning website Zola, which featured couples expressing their affection for one another -- some couples in the ads were same-sex couples while others were heterosexual couples -- were pulled from the air after the network faced pressure from conservative group One Million Moms, part of the American Family Association, to remove the ads.
The Hallmark Channel told the New York Times that the "public displays of affection" between the lesbian couples violated their company policy.
However, nearly identical ads featuring a bride and groom exchanging an excited kiss did not get pulled.
In response, Zola decided to pull all of their advertising from the Hallmark Channel, and the network was inundated with criticism for their decision. From viewers to celebrities, many voices including Ellen DeGeneres and country star Chely Wright came together to slam the network and demand they reconsider.
Hey @hallmarkchannel, I can see that you’re online now... tweeting about your movies, but no one from @hallmarkchannel has replied to the voluminous number of tweets (including mine) about your pulling the beautiful @Zola commercial which includes a kiss between two women in love https://t.co/i6r6MMdpZ0— Chely Wright (@chelywright) December 15, 2019
On Sunday, Hallmark CEO Mike Perry released a public statement expressing regret over their decision, and announced that the network was changing course.
"Earlier this week, a decision was made at Crown Media Family Networks to remove commercials featuring a same-sex couple. The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused," Perry stated. "Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision. Our mission is rooted in helping all people connect, celebrate traditions, and be inspired to capture meaningful moments in their lives. Anything that detracts for this purpose is not who we are. As the CEO of Hallmark, I am sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused."
Perry added, "Hallmark will be working with GLAAD to better represent the LGBTQ community across our portfolio of brands. The Hallmark Channel will be reaching out to Zola to reestablish our partnership and reinstate the commercials."
This remark comes shortly after Zola's Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Chi, released a statement slamming Hallmark's actions.
"The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark's standards included a lesbian couple kissing," Chi said. "Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed. All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark."
After their reversal, Chi released a statement to ET sharing, "We were deeply troubled when Hallmark rejected our commercials for featuring a lesbian couple celebrating their marriage, and are relieved to see that decision was reversed."
"We are humbled by everyone who showed support not only for Zola, but for all the LGBTQ couples and families who express their love on their wedding day, and every day," Chi added.
GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said Hallmark's reversal "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."
"LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be a part of advertisements and family programming and that will never change. GLAAD exists to hold brands like The Hallmark Channel accountable when they make discriminatory decisions and to proactively ensure families of all kinds are represented in fair and accurate ways."
In the Hallmark CEO's lengthy statement announcing that they had decided to change their position on the ads they'd recently pulled, Perry said, "Hallmark is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion -- both in our workplace as well as the products and experiences we create. It is never Hallmark’s intention to be divisive or generate controversy."
However, the company has faced at lease two other controversies over the past week.
First, the network took heat for their upcoming Hanukkah-themed films Holiday Date and Double Holiday, which are being criticized for featuring Jewish characters learning about the magic of Christmas.
The films were advertised as a "celebration of both Hanukkah and Christmas" -- instead of being just about a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah -- and were derided by many critics who accused them of being at best tone-deaf or at worst "anti-semitic."
Additionally, on Sunday -- amid the backlash over their decision to pull the Zola ads -- actress Hilarie Burton took to Twitter to share that she once backed out of a Hallmark Channel movie after they allegedly denied her request for diverse casting.
"Just going through some old emails from a #Hallmark job I was 'let go' from back in January. I had insisted on a LGBTQ character, an interracial couple and diverse casting. I was polite, direct and professional. But after the execs gave their notes on the script and NONE of myRequests were honored, I was told “take it or leave it” I left it. And the paycheck," the One Tree Hill actress wrote in a series of tweets. "S***ty being penalized for standing up for inclusivity. I really wanted that job. It was close to my house. It paid really well. It was about the military, which you all know I hold dear. But? Id walk away again in a heartbeat."
"The bigotry comes from the top and permeates the whole deal over there. I’ve been loudly cheering for @lifetimetv all year because they heard my concerns + RALLIED! You want inclusive Christmas magic?! We got it," she added. "Key point here: I have a wonderful husband @JDMorgan who works his ass off so I have the luxury to choose morals over paying bills. Not everyone has that! Nor should we be forced to be dependent. If I had to cover our mortgage and was told “take it or leave it”, I’d be f**ked."
Just going through some old emails from a #Hallmark job I was “let go” from back in January. I had insisted on a LGBTQ character, an interracial couple and diverse casting. I was polite, direct and professional. But after the execs gave their notes on the script and NONE of my— Hilarie Burton Morgan (@HilarieBurton) December 15, 2019