Wal-Mart has risked the wrath of its bible belt roots in the United States after joining the a gay commerce group.

The Arkansas based company has faced opposition in its changing attitude to gay and lesbian people in the US by groups such as the American Family Association (AFA).

AFA says that by joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Wal-Mart has abandoned its “pro family stance.”

James Nelson, co-founder of the NGLCC, told reporters that Wal-Mart will be paying $25,000 into the chamber’s coffers, and has agreed to conduct workshops for lesbian and gay business people.

“One of the things that this partnership brings is the realization that this company has said it wants to do the right thing and be a good corporate citizen in the LGBT community,” Nelson told the Los Angeles Times, referring to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

“Same-sex couples are everywhere. So it’s not just a coastal issue. This partnership has started a dialogue across America that is very good for equality.”

The AFA, and other generically named “Family Associations” or “Family Alliances”, have been critical of this recent change in policy.

“Up until a year and a half ago, the AFA applauded Wal-Mart for their pro-family policies, but now it seems Wal-Mart has decided to push aside that legacy left by [founder] Sam Walton and joined those who look at the bottom line and stock prices,” Randy Sharp of the AFA told Morning News of Northwest Arkansas.

In the past Wal-Mart has been influenced by AFA demands, and has refused to stock magazines such as Maxim and toys such as a pregnant Barbie, even though she had a wedding ring.

The AFA have been hostile to other corporations willing to work with groups such as the NGLCC or advertise in homosexual magazines.

The AFA recently started a boycott against Ford Motor Co. for advertising in gay magazines.

Their website currently headlines a story “78 Dealers Ask Ford to Stop Supporting the Homosexual Agenda.”

Wal-Mart spokesperson Bob McAdams told reporters that the company had worked with other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender organisations such as Human Rights Campaign and the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

The change in direction has also been criticised by some gay groups, though, who claim that it is only a cynical marketing ploy.

“Our community is a smart community, and we can see a shameless marketing opportunity when it comes,” said Jeremy Bishop, program director of Pride at Work, “for us it’s a matter of social and economic justice, and Wal-Mart has a long record of not treating its employees — gay or straight — with equity and dignity.”