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The Chick-fil-A gay marriage controversy

The Chick-fil-A gay marriage controversy

The Chick-fil-A restaurant chain found itself at the center of a firestorm over company president Dan Cathy’s views on traditional marriage.  As a result, there have been boycott threats against Chick-fil-A, the Henson Company has refused to allow them to license toys for kiddie meals… and most remarkably, Boston mayor Thomas Menino has promised to deny Chick-fil-A permits to build restaurants

CNN reported on an especially pivotal interview as follows:

The fact that Chick-fil-A is a company that espouses Christian values is no secret. The fact that its 1,600 fast-food chicken restaurants across the country are closed on Sundays has long been testament to that.

But the comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage to Baptist Press on Monday have ignited a social media wildfire.

“Guilty as charged,” Cathy said when asked about his company’s support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage.

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that,” Cathy is quoted as saying.

It appears that CNN relied on the sources that sparked that “social media wildfire” instead of reading the Cathy interview themselves, because Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org notes that during the interview in question, the Chick-fil-A president did not directly address the subject of gay marriage at all.  He said “guilty as charged” when asked about support for the traditional family, extended by Chick-fil-A through a foundation called WinShape (“shaping people to be winners.”)  Their purpose is to strengthen traditional families in every way, including keeping parents together to raise their children.

There’s not much doubt, even from the context of this single interview, that Cathy is referring to the union of husbands, wives, and children when he discusses support for the traditional family, but that’s not the same thing as condemning anyone.

As it happens, Cathy has directly addressed the topic of gay marriage recently, when he said during a radio interview: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’  I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think we can try to define what marriage is all about.”

That’s a rather forceful statement against the re-definition of marriage – delivered with an invocation of divine judgment that understandably makes some listeners uncomfortable, and is arguably intended to do so – but still not a personal condemnation of anyone.

Gay marriage is one of those agonizing social issues in which the two sides do not remotely agree on the terms of the debate.  Those who share Cathy’s beliefs find it impossible to extend “marriage” to include same-sex relationships without altering the definition of marriage, which inherently requires a man and a woman.  Same-sex marriage proponents of good will disagree, arguing that the sex of the participants is not relevant to the importance and power of the institution.  It’s possible to hold either of these positions without being motivated by bigotry.

Of course, the name of the game being played against Chick-fil-A involves ending the discussion, by ruling one side of this important social debate completely out of order, and dismissing their beliefs as unworthy of respect.  All resistance to gay marriage is instantly transmuted into personal hatred of gay people.  On the other hand, criticism of traditional marriage proponents cannot be viewed as hateful, no matter how angrily it might be expressed.  It’s a rigged heads-we-win, tails-you-lose game.

Cathy isn’t allowed to encourage reverence and support for the traditional family, or even worse, put his money where his mouth is.  He’s not allowed to say that he finds moral or practical value in the time-honored definition of marriage, without feeling animosity towards gay people.  His ideas and principles are automatic thought crimes, no matter how gently and constructively they might be presented.

“The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” the company declared in a statement. “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”  But as thought crime perpetrators, they will be judged incapable of expressing such high-minded sentiments with sincerity.

This is most problematic in the case of Boston mayor Menino, who brings the power of government into the equation.  “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.  We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion,” he told the Boston Herald.

Referring to the proposed location of a Chick-fil-A restaurant, Menino thundered, “That’s the Freedom Trail.  That’s where it all started right here.  And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”  He promised that getting permits for restaurant construction “will be very difficult… unless they open up their policies,” by which he means the company abandoning its financial support for traditional marriage groups.

What a bracing dose of Newspeak!  Menino’s all about making Boston an “open” city “at the forefront of inclusion,” except for people who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.  Those people get “excluded” as viciously as possible, but such exclusion is necessary to prove how inclusive the Mayor is.  Up is down, day is night, “freedom” requires submission to a political agenda, and “open” minds are welded firmly shut.  Hopefully the people of Boston won’t mind sacrificing some jobs, and culinary choices, in the name of the absolute ideological rigidity expected from an “open” city.

Dan Cathy graciously allowed that his beliefs “might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”  The mayor of Boston, the owners of the Muppets, and others strongly disagree that he lives in such a country.

Update: The Henson Company, which broke off relations with Chick-fil-A over Dan Cathy’s remarks, is no longer the owner of the Muppet properties.  I’ve corrected the reference to them at the beginning of the post accordingly.

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