Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), the nation’s largest private employer with Wal-Mart has 1.3 million full- and part-time U.S. employees, already covers over 1.1 million people through the benefit packages that labor groups have lobbied for years. It’s nothing less than an “about face” for a company that has famously been maligned as one of the worse employers out there. “Obama Care” is largely responsible for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) changing its stance and offering employees health care choices, but its step forward to extend these benefits to domestic partnerships is, well, a huge step forward for a company that is based in a state where the overwhelming majority doesn’t favor same-sex marriage or the extension of rights to LGBT partners.

Wal-Mart

“We thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) associates in the U.S. to give them consistency in the various markets we operate in across the country,” Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said in telephone interview.

The retailer’s definition of domestic partners includes same- or opposite-sex spouses, unmarried partners who live together for at least 12 months, aren’t married to anyone else and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, Hargrove said.

While the change at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) might cause some “ruffled feathers,” among conservative shoppers, it isn’t likely to cause a significant decline in traffic, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis.

“We’re in 2013, same sex marriage is an accepted thing,” Yarbrough said. “Why not offer benefits?”

While Yarbrough clearly lives in the land of the enlightened, the States remains a ways away from this viewpoint from “sea to shining sea,” and certainly south of the Mason-Dixon Line. He’s right to say that it won’t cause a significant decline in traffic; most of this is owing to the fact that for many that won’t support Wal-Mart’s decision often doesn’t have options. The rural and semi-rural consumer would have to drive a long ways in order to boycott Wal-Mart.

The change will take effect in all 50 states, independent of each state’s definition of what marriage, domestic partnership or civil union entails.

Wal-Mart’s internal email

In an internal email, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) senior vice president of benefits Sally Welborn wrote to executives after explaining the policy shift, “Your behavior matters. The words you use also matter. We are counting on you to be thoughtful, supportive and understanding of multiple viewpoints. Your visibility can make a big difference to how associates feel.”