Chicken can’t make gay marriage legal. Chicken doesn’t discriminate between who cooks it, sells it, or eats it. Chicken can’t do any of those things. Chick-fil-A can’t do any of those things, and so far, it hasn’t tried. But what started out as an important and necessary conversation about civil rights and the American family has somehow devolved into a proxy war being fought over Chick-fil-A. Dan Cathy, the company president, has used his religious freedom to voice an opinion that some people don’t like. He’s even supported that opinion with monetary donations to the Family Research Council. When we attack Dan Cathy’s use of his personal freedoms by trying to punish his restaurant, we’re fighting against freedom instead of fighting for civil rights.
Following a statement by Chick-fil-A’s President in support of traditional marriage, the mayors of Boston and Chicago have stated that the restaurant is no longer welcome in their cities. Apparently “I don’t like you, so you can’t come here!” now counts as “due process,” according to the Left. It’s also fascinating that these mayors cannot bear to permit the “immorality” of a family-owned chicken restaurant…in the very same cities where strip clubs are allowed to do business freely. Holy double standard, Batman! And if this is about freedom (spoiler alert: it is), then why ban something because you don’t agree with the owner’s religious views? What grounds does a mayor have to pass moral judgement on businesses, anyhow? Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, D.C., has called the restaurant a purveyor of “hate chicken.” I was previously unaware that the chickens had any opinion on the issue. Gay rights advocates and allies have organized a boycott of Chick-fil-A. The company’s brand approval has been in free fall. And while I respect that they are trying to create change, their methods are misguided.
Chick-fil-A is a family business. It is a Christian family business. The First Amendment protects freedom of religion – and it’s generally believed that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” means that Americans are free to be entrepreneurs. By these simple metrics, Chick-fil-A is within the law.
Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s President, gave a statement to the Baptist Press saying that he is “guilty as charged” for supporting traditional marriage. I’m not here to agree or disagree with his position – because what I think doesn’t matter. No matter what I think, or what anyone else thinks, Dan Cathy’s personal religious freedom is protected by the First Amendment.
The Left doesn’t like how Dan Cathy uses his religious freedom. The Tolerance Police have got their sirens blaring – telling everyone to boycott Chick-fil-A because of its “intolerant” beliefs. A massive boycott of Chick-fil-A has been planned. This is perfectly legal based on the right to free association. But it’s not constructive. It’s just another straw man (straw chicken?) that the Left is trying to destroy instead of actually working towards their stated goal of marriage equality. Punishing someone for using his freedom of speech does nothing to make things better for gays in this country.
First — Chick-fil-A is not intolerant. You can eat there if you’re gay. You can work there if you’re gay. You can even own a franchise if you’re gay. Chick-fil-a is an equal opportunity employer. Though it is still legal in Georgia, among other states, to deny someone employment based on sexual orientation, there have been zero reports of the restaurant asking about someone’s orientation on a job application. “Please list all relevant work experience. Also, circle one of the following: Adam and Eve, OR Adam and Steve?”
Second — even if the boycott works, what does that do for the gay rights movement? It doesn’t destroy the Cathy family, since they’re quite wealthy already. Know what they use that wealth for? Sure, they donate to the Family Research Council, but they also donate to educational programs, churches, and charities for the homeless. Let’s not raze the philanthropic forest because of one anti-gay tree, okay?
These boycotters are essentially asking Chick-fil-A for something the restaurant cannot give them. The boycotters want gay marriage legalized — Chick-fil-A can’t make that happen. Even if Dan Cathy were to release a statement tomorrow saying, “Hey y’all, guess what, we called it wrong. I’m now pro-gay marriage and will be suspending all donations to the Family Research Council.” What then? Does anything get better for gays in America? Probably not. The Cathy family has donated $3 million to the FRC over a span of many years…a great deal of money but not overwhelming, considering the FRC has an annual budget of over $1o million per year.
What if the boycott works even better than expected, and Chick-fil-A goes belly-up faster than you can say “waffle fries”? That would mean the end of 1,600 restaurants. No more jobs for thousands of workers…some of whom are probably gay. This boycott is aiming to destroy a company that means no harm, and to end jobs that allow thousands to provide for themselves. And at the end of it all – Dan Cathy could, and still might, donate to the FRC!
And what does the boycott accomplish, after all this destruction? Honestly, I’m not sure. It doesn’t destroy the Family Research Council. It doesn’t accomplish any increase in rights for gay Americans. Chick-fil-A can sell you a chicken biscuit – but it can’t make gay marriage legal. It can’t really change the rules surrounding adoption or hospital visitation. It can pronounce you full of breakfast – but it can’t pronounce you man and wife or wife and wife or man and man. Chick-fil-A isn’t in the marriage business. It’s in the chicken business, and we ought to let it stay there.
(Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure – you won’t find me in the drive-thru lane, since I have an autoimmune disorder that makes my body intolerant to all things wheat. Breaded chicken on a bun? Not my thing.)
If all the people condemning Chick-fil-A turned to something more constructive instead of destructive –say, perhaps, writing letters to their Congressmen or trying to get gay marriage up for a vote in more states — we might see more real change instead of just a few more leftover chicken biscuits at the end of the day. As for the city bans – here is what I know: Chick-fil-A, like me, is from Georgia. And I am fairly certain that, like any polite Southerner, it will continue to show up and do good in places where it is welcome. It will continue to welcome all with hospitality and fried food. The issue of gay rights doesn’t live at Chick-fil-A. It lives in the law. So if you’re looking for a fight, then fight the government that makes the laws – don’t fight the company full of well-meaning people who make chicken sandwiches.
Angela Morabito | Georgetown University | @_AngelaMorabito