Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A: keep your government out of my chicken sandwich

Who would have believed a fast food restaurant would be so mired in political controversy?
Today is "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," organized in support of the Atlanta fast food chain by Mike Huckabee, a response to critics of the restaurant's opposition to same sex marriage.

Let me be direct. I'm straight, married 33 years, and firmly believe that the right of any person to marry one human of their choice, regardless of gender, is a civil right.  I am in favor of same-sex marriage in Washington state and in every other state in the union.  I support Referendum 74, which establishes the measure passed by the Washington state legislature to make same-sex marriage the law.  There, I've said it.  All five of my followers, as well as those that stumble upon this blog by some strange accident, know what I believe.

Dan Cathy opposes same-sex marriage.  He's made it clear that he and his family are supportive of "the Biblical family unit."  He went on to state that he and his family are still married to their first wives.
Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A unleashed a firestorm of controversy by opposing same-sex marriage in an online Baptist journal.
I believe Mr. Cathy is wrong.  I believe his views deprive millions of Americans of rights guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the the 14th Amendment, and denies them the pursuit of happiness enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.  I don't believe this is a mere matter of difference of opinion.  Denying a particular group equal rights is an egregious failing in our republic, one we've tried to remedy over the years.  Ethnic minorities, women, the disabled have all received special recognition as those deserving of recognition by special laws due to their former status as groups suffering discrimination.  It is difficult to argue that the LBGT community has not suffered such discrimination, or that laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA,) a federal laws discriminates against them. It is also hard to believe the Supreme Court will not rule in their favor when the appeal of DOMA reaches them.

Okay, Mr. Cathy and I disagree.  Ultimately we're each entitled to share our opinions under the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Our situation is somewhat different because Cathy has a much larger megaphone.  He is the president of Chick-fil-A.  He spoke his views in an online Baptist journal, and, unless you've been hiding under a rock the past few weeks, you know it's provoked a firestorm of controversy.  To be clear, Chick-fil-A restaurants do not discriminate in their hiring practices.  They do not refuse service to the LGBT community.  Their business practices are well within those required under U.S. civil rights laws.

What's followed are threats by pro-LGBT groups to boycott Chick-fil-A, hold kiss-ins, and parade in front of their shops.  All actions that are predictable and protected political speech under the First Amendment.
Rahm Emanuel created quite a stir when he said "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values."

However, mayors of large cities with big gay populations across the United States have made public statements indicating Chick-fil-A would not be welcome to locate there.  Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and former President Obama chief-of-staff, said Cathy's views didn't represent Chicago values. They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members," Emanuel said. There is already one Chick-fil-A shop located in Chicago.  Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston, said there "was not room for discrimination on the Freedom Trail, and no place for your company alongside it." Other cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C., claimed that Chick-fil-A restaurants would not be welcomed.  Nobody has said what, exactly, not welcome means. Would they be denied permits and licenses needed to operate their business on the basis of what exactly?  Would the cops just shut them down?  What do they mean?

Thomas Menino wrote a very public letter to Chick-fil-A urging them to scrap their plans to locate in Boston. In Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal. 

What do I think of this?  First, just as a general rule, business owners and corporate always will find themselves with regrets when they take a public position on important political and social issues, regardless of whether they are mainstream, liberal or conservative.  In our increasingly polarized society, someone will be pissed off and they'll use the tools they have: either their own public megaphone or the boycott. Now that Jeff Bezos of and his wife contributed $2.5 dollars to the Yes on Referedum 74 supporters, there will doubtless be conservative calls for a boycott of this important Seattle giant. If, as a business leader, you want to take a position on an important political or social issue, just know in advance you aren't going to fly under the radar, and you are going to be on somebody's list of enemies.

The actions and words of government officials, however, is another matter. Cities may not restrain trade by a private enterprise without cause.  The last time I checked, exercising one's First Amendment rights is not cause.  While Emanuel, Menino and others may publicly deplore Cathy's views, and while they may publicly establish the "values" of their cities and constituents, their actions suggest that at the very least running a Chick-fil-A in Chicago and Boston might be very difficult.  This smacks of images of gangsterism and corruption more fitting to a banana republic than the United States.  While I may agree with their sentiments on this issue, their words are not fitting for any government official in this country.

1 comment:

E.M. Gumby said...

Free speech is a right that even politicians get. They are free to bloviate whatever opinions they like. Use of the bully pulpit is an old and hallowed method for showing support without the need to actually commit to doing anything.

When one of these politicians acts to block Chick-fil-A by introducing some sort of legal injunction against them, they have crossed a line. Until then it's just talk, and talk is a protected right