Qantas chair Leigh Clifford has defended the airline’s role in the marriage equality debate.

Speaking at Qantas’s annual general meeting, Clifford addressed questions from shareholders who wanted to know why the airline thought it should have a role in the campaign, The Australian has reported.

Clifford pointed out that the airline was far from the only company to back the Yes campaign, with over 1,300 businesses having signed up in support of marriage equality, and said that Qantas has “always stood up for equality and a fair go”.

“As part of that we lend our support to a range of social issues such as gender diversity, Indigenous rights and reconciliation, and marriage equality,” he said.

“We believe there’s a moral case for supporting equality in general as well as a strong business case.

“We have never directed others what to think about marriage equality or how to vote in the postal survey.

“We’ve only asked for respectful debate on the issue and that includes respect for those who disagree… just as we do on economic matters I think it is the responsibility of large corporate to speak up on social issues when it aligns with our values.”

In addition to the airline’s support of marriage equality, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce personally donated $1 million to the Yes campaign.

Qantas’s support for equality continued throughout the campaign, despite Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s call for Joyce and other CEOs to “stick to their knitting”.

In May, a marriage equality opponent hit Joyce in the face with a pie at a breakfast event. The attacker was subsequently banned from the airline for life.

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