Chic-Fil-A, Free Speech, and Economic Power

I’ve avoided weighing in on the recent Chic-Fil-A drama, as I didn’t think it was anything that would continue to permeate the news and social media.  I was wrong.  Even today, almost two weeks after Chic-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s remarks in which he states “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit” as a response to questions regarding monetary donations to groups that oppose gay marriage initiatives, people are still reacting to this statement.

I’ll be the first to state that I think Mr. Cathy’s statements are incorrect and demonstrate a narrow understanding of the term family.   LGBT rights issues, in my opinion, are civil, even human, rights that should not be the subject of laws limiting the rights of LGBT people.  With that said, Mr. Cathy is entitled to his opinion about gay marriage, no matter how misguided people or groups might find it.  I am a proud member and monetary contributor to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country.  I WANT HRC to speak out in support of LGBT rights.  That’s what I give them my money to do.  I want them to increase community outreach efforts, support anti-bullying programs, educational programs, and provide a vital resource for LGBT people on a variety of health and personal issues.  There is no difference between my contributing money to HRC and Mr. Cathy’s contributing money to anti-LGBT groups, aside from the size of our contributions.

My question is: was Mr. Cathy’s statement really a shock as some people seem to be claiming with their criticisms?  Chic-Fil-A has always prided itself on being a Christian-focused, family-owned business.  The fact that the restaurants are closed on Sundays clearly should speak volumes about what the ownership feels regarding the importance of traditionalist Christian religion, and thus, shouldn’t be a far stretch to infer what their views about gay marriage would be.

Some politicians and other organizations have put out statements condemning Mr. Cathy’s position and articulating their own.  Again, that’s their right, and I am glad they are doing this and showing their support for LGBT rights.  Where my problem comes in is in how some people are packaging this issue.  Reports that “Chic-Fil-A discriminates against LGBT people” or similar headlines is not true.  The OWNER of Chic-Fil-A is supporting groups that are trying to enact anti-LGBT initiatives.  The restaurant itself is not discriminating.  From the consumer end of things (as I have no idea about their employment practices), I would ask what the possible benefit of denying service to an LGBT customer would be.  For one, this isn’t an aspect of our identities that is immediately noticed upon meeting people.  In addition, any smart businessman isn’t going to deny service, as denying service equals a loss in profits, completely counterintuitive to a business model.

On a similar vein, concerns were raised by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who sent a letter to Mr. Cathy urging him to back out of his plans to open a Chic-Fil-A in Boston.  In an economic recession, and when any job is in high demand, turning away a business is not a smart play, in my opinion, especially when the BUSINESS has done nothing wrong.  Using political power to attempt to dissuade/discourage a business simply because you don’t agree with their policies is not acting in the greater interest of the economy, and sets up a dangerous precedent regarding appropriate use of power.

While you might disagree (as I do vehemently) with his opinions, the best way to make your voice heard is to speak out to family, friends, and others, contribute to groups that support causes you believe in, and don’t contribute to groups that support causes you don’t support.  As consumers in a market economy, we have power.  If you don’t want your money going to causes you don’t support, buy from somewhere else.   There’s plenty of fast food establishments in America offering the same types of food at similar prices as Chic-Fil-A.

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