By Rachel Yang
December 15, 2019 at 10:22 PM EST

Following intense criticism, Hallmark CEO Mike Perry is apologizing after the Hallmark Channel pulled multiple ads for the wedding planning site Zola in which same-sex couples were shown kissing.

“We are truly sorry for the hurt and disappointment this has caused,” Perry said in a statement obtained by EW. “Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences.”

The statement also notes that the “Hallmark Channel will be reaching out to Zola to reestablish our partnership and reinstate the commercials,” and will be working with GLAAD on LGBTQ inclusion in its brands.

“Hallmark is, and always has been, committed to diversity and inclusion — both in our workplace as well as the products and experiences we create. It is never Hallmark’s intention to be divisive or generate controversy. We are an inclusive company and have a track record to prove it,” the statement continued, noting that Hallmark has LGBTQ greeting cards.

In a statement to EW, Zola’s Chief Marketing Officer Mike Chi responded to Hallmark’s apology. “We were deeply troubled when Hallmark rejected our commercials for featuring a lesbian couple celebrating their
marriage, and are relieved to see that decision was reversed. We are humbled by everyone who showed support not only for Zola, but for all the LGBTQ couples and families who express their love on their wedding day, and every day.”

Hallmark began airing four Zola commercials with kissing brides on Dec. 2 but took them down on Dec. 12, according to The New York Times, after One Million Moms, a division of the conservative American Family Association, published a petition. In a statement to the Times on Friday, Crown Media Family Networks confirmed the decision to pull the ads, stating: “The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value.”

Hallmark first defended the decision, saying the ads that were “deemed controversial” and contained “public displays of affection” that were against the channel’s policies. However, it did not address why a similar Zola ad featuring a heterosexual couple kissing was left up.

Zola spoke out against the removal, saying it “will no longer be advertising” on the channel. Celebrities and LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD also condemned the ads’ removal.

“Advertisers on @hallmarkchannel should see this news and question whether they want to be associated with a network that chooses to bow to fringe anti-LGBTQ activist groups, which solely exist to harm LGBTQ families,” GLAAD tweeted on Sunday.

The organization has since shared an updated statement from President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis celebrating Hallmark’s apology, saying, “LGBTQ people are, and will continue to be a part of advertisements and family programming and that will never change.”

Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Hilarie Burton Morgan, and William Shatner also criticized Hallmark for pulling the commercials.

“Isn’t it almost 2020?” the Ellen Show host tweeted, tagging the accounts for Hallmark Channel and its President and CEO Bill Abbott. “what are you thinking? Please explain. We’re all ears.”

Burton Morgan also claimed she left an acting job for the company after she insisted on featuring “an LGBTQ character, an interracial couple and diverse casting,” and was denied by Hallmark executives.

“I’d walk away again in a heartbeat. The bigotry comes from the top and permeates the whole deal over there,” she tweeted on Sunday. “I’ve been loudly cheering for @lifetimetv all year because they heard my concerns + RALLIED! You want inclusive Christmas magic?! We got it. Love is love. #receipts.”

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