I’ve never eaten at Chik-fil-A, and I don’t plan to go out of my way for fast-food fried chicken, but many people seem quite enamored by their menu offerings and thus conflicted when deciding to boycott the company. Why the boycott?
Chik-fil-A is a restaurant chain owned by Southern Baptists who don’t shy away from their faith, even to support their bottom line. Stores close on Sundays, and the president of the company, S. Truett Cathy, has thrust himself in the contentious debate over same-sex marriage.
The bad blood between the restaurant chain and gay-rights supporters has been simmering for some time, and finally boiled over earlier this month when it was revealed that the company supports anti-same-sex marriage groups, including the controversial Family Research Council. In an interview with the Baptist Press, Cathy said that his company was “guilty as charged” when asked if it supports a particular biblical definition of marriage and family.
Facebook lit up with postings condemning Chik-fil-A, The Onion wrote a piece about a new homophobic sandwich, and even Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino got in on the action, writing a letter to the company suggesting they look elsewhere for expansion opportunities: “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston,” he wrote. “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
Is there a difference between a public boycott of a company and an elected official joining the fray? As The Boston Globe editorialized, those on the left would be rightly outraged if a conservative mayor voiced opposition to gay-friendly cities locating in his or her city, so perhaps the same principle should apply here. Citizens boycotting seems appropriate and effective; students at Boston's Northeastern University convinced the school to drop plans to bring in a franchise after demonstrating against the idea.
What about issues of religious convictions influencing business? Certainly the owner of a private company has a right to believe what he wishes, but what if those beliefs begin to infiltrate the workplace? Cathy said that the nation is inviting the wrath of God upon itself by legalizing gay-marriage. Is it hard to believe that he would discriminate against gay employees? Would those who support Cathy’s views on marriage support him if he said he didn’t feel comfortable paying gays and lesbians? Surely in a diverse society such as ours individuals must have some protections from the beliefs of others, especially in the workplace.
Whatever your views on gay rights and same-sex marriage, society is moving toward acceptance and recognition of gay individuals, even if the march feels slow and arduous to some (or rapid and scary to others). Increasingly, those who espouse anti-gay statements, bolstered by religious belief, will feel isolated and outside the mainstream. That may be fine, as most people don’t have much sympathy for those who long for segregation or exclusively male voting rights. But their rights to say such things, and to lose money in the process, is theirs to exercise freely. And it’s the right of those who reject such ideas to spend their money elsewhere, preferably somewhere with healthier fare and ideas.