By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - A J.C. Penney ad for Father's Day featuring a gay Texas couple and their two children has angered a national conservative organization, but the couple says they've been bombarded with mostly positive feedback from friends and strangers around the country.
The print ad in a small June catalog for the Plano, Texas-based retailer shows Cooper Smith and Todd Koch of Dallas laughing and playing with their 3-year-olds, Mason and Claire. It reads, "First Pals - What makes Dad so cool? He's the swim coach, tent maker, best friend, bike fixer and hug giver - all rolled into one. Or two."
J.C. Penney's advertising campaigns have used more people from more diverse backgrounds since Ron Johnson became the CEO of the mid-priced department store chain last November. Before joining J.C. Penney, Johnson was Apple Inc's senior vice president of retail.
The Father's Day ad with two Dads follows a May print catalog ad for Mother's Day showing a lesbian couple with their children and the hiring of openly gay entertainer Ellen DeGeneres as a company spokeswoman featured in TV commercials.
"Of course, some people have told us what we are doing is vile, disgusting and unnatural," Smith told Reuters on Tuesday. "Growing up gay, that isn't something we haven't heard before."
One Million Moms responded to the DeGeneres hiring with a call for a boycott. The group reacted to the May ad with pleas for members to gently pressure store managers for more neutral advertising.
This time, One Million Moms, an affiliate of the American Family Association, is encouraging members to boycott stores, contact store managers and return catalogs with the statement "Refused . . . Return to Sender" written on them.
On its website, One Million Moms said under a headline, "Avoid JCP this Father's Day," that J.C. Penney was "continuing down the same path of promoting sin in their advertisements."
"We must remain diligent and stand up for Biblical values and truth," One Million Moms said in the statement on its website. "Scripture says multiple times that homosexuality is wrong, and God will not tolerate this sinful nature."
J.C. Penney officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Smith said a friend with connections to the Dallas area-based department store operator recommended that the couple and their children be included in the ad. The family - Smith runs a public relations company and Koch works in corporate finance - was selected and photos were taken in February, Smith said.
"We hadn't heard a thing about it until the ad appeared last week," Smith said.
The family appeared on a Dallas TV show on Tuesday morning to discuss the ad, which is included in the small June color catalog mailed to customers' homes.
"It represents a large group of diverse families," Smith told Reuters. "We are just seen on one page."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jan Paschal)