What’s worse than the president of a large national company denouncing marriage equality and donating millions in company profits to anti-gay causes?
How about government officials using homophobia as an excuse to deny that company the right to operate?
That’s exactly what’s happening in the debate over Chick-fil-A, whose president Dan Cathy backs the “biblical definition of family,” according to remarks he made in two recent interviews.
“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,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about,” Cathy said.
Of course Cathy’s views are repugnant and backward, but there’s an easy, sensible response: Don’t eat at Chick-fil-A. Unfortunately, some well-meaning politicians have jumped into the fray and are taking their good intentions to dangerous extremes.
Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno threatened to block the opening of a Chick-fil-A restaurant there unless the company adopts an anti-discrimination policy, according to an AP report.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a letter that went viral last week in which he offers passionate support for marriage equality before taking that support too far. “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
Predictably, some LGBT rights groups gushed in support of this frightening overreach. The Human Rights Campaign issued a press release commending Menino’s rebuke of Chick-fil-A titled, “HRC Commends Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for Saying No to Chick-fil-A.”
“We applaud Mayor Menino for calling out Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay policies,” HRC’s Fred Sainz said in the statement. “… Chick-fil-A is on the wrong side of history, and we look forward to seeing more and more elected officials and businesses speak out against their discriminatory practices.”
Meanwhile, in Chicago, an LGBT group called The Civil Rights Agenda, offered similar praise for Moreno.
“We applaud the statements made by Alderman Moreno and Mayor Emmanuel regarding Chick-fil-A,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda. “… The statements made by Dan Cathy show that this restaurant has no place in Chicago. We will continue to work to ensure that Chick-fil-A is not welcome in this city until they see the value of acceptance and diversity.”
These tactics are mindboggling in their shortsightedness. Leave it to LGBT activists to render Chick-fil-A’s hate mongers the victims.
It’s true that the bigots at Chick-fil-A are on the wrong side of history, but unfortunately so are HRC and the groups that support government retaliation against a citizen on the basis of his political views. Does the LGBT movement really want to find itself on the losing side of a debate over freedom of speech? Sure, criticize Cathy and his views. Organize boycotts and protests of the restaurants. And use this ugly episode to make the case for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because surely Cathy’s LGBT employees lack job security. But endorsing government attacks on a business over its president’s views — however offensive and wrong — is reckless and ignores our community’s long, painful history of being victimized by government officials.
This government intrusion on free speech rights is a double-edged sword. Have we forgotten the days when police raided our bars? When the White House ignored the exploding AIDS epidemic because gay men were the ones seen as suffering? When writers for this newspaper were forced to use pen names because they feared for their day jobs working in the government?
Members of the LGBT community ought to be the most aggressive in defending the freedom of speech. We continue to use it in powerful ways to advance our equality. To now applaud politicians who would deny business licenses to companies based on the political views of their owners might feel good, but are we so desperate for validation that we want to stoop to the ugly (and unconstitutional) practices of our opponents?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he said, “trampling on the freedom to marry whoever you want is exactly the same as trampling on your freedom to open a store.” Dan Cathy deserves the right of free speech. He’s entitled to his views and welcome to spend his money funding our enemies. It’s ultimately a losing fight so his money is wasted. We should counter his message of hate and intolerance by pressing for justice. This controversy should be Exhibit A in the case for ENDA.