Same-sex marriages aren't recognized in most states, but Target stores nationwide are now selling greeting cards to celebrate them.

Placed on card racks under the headings of "For two special men" and "For two special women," the cards are adorned with phrases such as "Mr. & Mr." and "Two very special women, one very special love."

The cards hit shelves in mid-June, a month after the retailer began selling T-shirts with gay pride themes, and two years after Target drew a backlash for a $150,000 donation it made to a group backing Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who opposed gay marriage.

Target offers a range of greeting cards that appeal to a variety of audiences, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, spokeswoman Molly Snyder said.

"Target is focused on diversity and inclusivity," she said.

The cards are made by Carlton Cards, a unit of American Greetings, whose spokeswoman Patrice Sadd said the company and Target jointly decided to offer "wedding cards relevant for everyone."

More businesses are courting the gay community, even at the risk of alienating some customers. Other companies, including Minnesota-based food giant General Mills, have publicly backed same-sex marriage -- a step Target hasn't taken.

Hallmark has been offering cards for same-sex couples to retailers since 2008, though Target doesn't carry that brand.

In November, Minnesotans will take to the polls to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Minnesotans for Marriage, a group opposing same-sex marriage, denounced Target for its gay pride support. When asked about the greeting cards, spokesman Chuck Darrell said in an e-mail that "people can love whoever they want, however they don't have a right to force same-sex marriage on all of society."

Historically, companies have worried that marketing openly to gay people would drive away other customers, said Witeck Communications CEO Bob Witeck, who studies the gay community.

"What Target and other marketers have figured out is it's not a zero-sum game," he said. "The rewards of marketing to gay households are greater than the perceived risks."

In 2010, Target wasn't the only company that donated to MN Forward, which supported Emmer. The company has said it contributed because of the group's tax and jobs platform. But Target ended up drawing more ire than Best Buy and other companies that supported the group.

That's because the donation contrasted with the gay-friendly reputation the company held for so long, said Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota.

"All the actions Target has taken since the MN Forward kerfuffle have been friendly to the gay community," Rao said, "and this is one more in those long line of steps."

From a purely business standpoint, adding the cards is "a perfectly logical thing to do," Rao said.

Witeck's research indicates that the purchasing power of the country's LGBT population this year is $790 billion, or roughly $49,000 per adult.

Surveys shows that the groups most coveted by many retailers -- particularly the young and the educated -- tend to be accepting of gay people, Rao said, making some companies less averse to marketing to gay consumers.

In May, Target began featuring T-shirts with gay pride themes on its website, and donated proceeds from sales to the Family Equality Council, which supports LGBT families. Target has for years partnered with the council and sponsored the Twin Cities Pride festival. The T-shirts sold out last month.

Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride, said she was pleased to see a major corporation reach out to a market ignored by other companies. She didn't view the cards as an attempt by Target to make up for its donation to MN Forward.

"I think it's great marketing," she said. "It's a natural evolution as people realize the GLBT community exists and isn't going away."

Walker Moskop • 612-673-4265