COMMENTARYby Marie Whitaker
I love the chicken at Chick-fil-A. I eat the chicken, I am not trying to marry it or Dan Cathy, the president of the company who ignited a firestorm when he was quoted saying, “We are very much supportive of the family… the Biblical definition of the family unit.”
Cathy opposes same-sex marriage. Although I don’t agree with him, I am happy he is standing by what he believes. The danger of his beliefs for a man who operates one of America’s favorite fast-food chains is that now his company has become the center of controversy.
I happen not to care what Mr. Cathy thinks about Adam and Adam saying “I do.”
Yet, now my friends are asking, “How can you still eat at Chick-fil-A?” Here are four reasons why:
1. Slippery slope: No shoes, no shirts, sinners – no service Mr. Cathy is entitled to his personal beliefs (and we have the right to shop elsewhere). But how far into the family business is he willing to take his Biblical principles? Is he willing to apply it to everyone equally, and not just same-sex couples? Should the sign on the door say “no shirt, no shoes, sinners, no service?” If every gay person were colored pink, and easily identified, perhaps Mr. Cathy and his overly eager, painfully pleasant, acned army behind the counter, would be able to turn people away based on sexual orientation. In reality, it’s harder to do.
Meanwhile, what about anyone else not living according to Mr. Cathy’s reading of the Bible? If someone works on Sunday, should they be denied service at Chick-fil-A during the week? Mr. Cathy believes in one marriage for life: saying of his company, “we are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” What about those who failed at their first marriage and are now working on wife number two, three or four? What if you are a liar, can you go to Chick-fil-A to have your perverse tongue cut-out? In Leviticus it says touching the skin of a pig makes one unclean. Should football players who love to toss the pigskin around be denied service? Or is it okay to play football only at the Chick-fil-A Bowl because that game starts with an invocation?
The answer, to all of that, is that Chick-fil-A is not turning away sinners at the door, or stoning them to death in the parking lots, because it would cost the company customers. So I have no expectation of being turned away.
2. Why be “happily invisible”?There was a time not that long ago in this country when African-Americans were denied service based on the color of our skin. Although the ‘colored only’ sections no longer exist, I know when and where I am not welcome. There are many places that serve me simply because they no longer have the right to deny people who look like me. At those places, you are waiting for service and you are skipped or overlooked or followed around the store. Many of my friends are now avoiding Chick-fil-A, in remembrance of that history.
But if I want the diet lemonade as only Chick-fil-A can make it, I am going to Chick-fil-A to buy it. To avoid places where I am not warmly received would make me “happily invisible,” and allow them to easily ignore my existence. Many have sacrificed so I could have the freedom to spend my money where I choose. The sit-ins were not about what was on the menu, those protests were about the freedom to choose. I am not giving that right up because Mr. Cathy sits so easily and comfortably in judgment of others.
3. #hatechicken: Tweets vs. economicsTo the mayors of Chicago, Boston and San Francisco who are ready and willing to keep Chick-fil-A out of their cities, where does that line you are drawing end? What if the next Mayor decides to close down “gay-friendly” shops that welcome customers with their rainbow flags? New York’s Mayor Bloomberg believes it is “inappropriate for a city government or a state government or the federal government to look at somebody’s political views and decide whether or not they can live in the city, or operate a business in the city.” And while I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg would still welcome Chick-fil-A if the company sold 32-ounce sugary drinks, I agree with him on principle.
It might seem politically expedient to tweet #hatechicken as one mayor did on Friday, however it would probably be more meaningful to constituents if those mayors attracted more businesses willing to bring jobs into their cities. Instead of closing the door on Chick-fil-A, perhaps a closer look at the demographics of those working behind the counter might be warranted.
If African-Americans are still the last hired and first fired, our unemployment numbers will not change. Mayors should be busily working to make sure that fair employment practices are actually being followed. Of course that might be more work than most of our elected officials want to handle. And why bother when tweeting requires so little thought and only 140 characters?
4. A dangerous game of chickenThe majority of Chick-fil-A’s 1,600 restaurants are located in the Bible belt. I happen to like the fact that they are all closed on Sundays. Mr. Cathy I am sure spends his Sundays much in the way I spend mine: with family. And no matter what rights Mr. Cathy might want to deny my friends and family, his type of bigotry will not change who I am, who I love and even what I eat. Who knew a simple chicken sandwich could be so complicated.
Chick-fil-A issued a statement last week saying that “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” That statement comes too late, because a very dangerous game of chicken is already underway.
Now Mr. Cathy and Chick-fil-A are in the middle of the road and on each side, supporters and opponents have them in their crosshairs. Supporters of Mr. Cathy and his stand against same-sex marriage will have an “Appreciation Day” on August 1st. Opponents of the restaurant and those who support same-sex marriage are planning a ‘kiss-in’ August 3rd.
Mr. Cathy has used about $10 million to fund conservative groups who actively oppose same-sex marriage. I never wanted to put this much thought into chicken, waffle fries and coleslaw, but like Mr. Cathy, I too am free to do what I want with my money. The next time I treat myself to the chain’s sinful but tasteful fried chicken and white bread, I will give triple the money I spend to the marriage equality effort. What I am not willing to freely give up is my right to go anywhere, even into places where people like me are not welcomed.
Marie Whitaker is a pen name. She is an author and occasional contributor to theGrio and msnbc.com.