“I disagree with your opinion, but…”
In case you missed the tagline, I’m openly gay. In case you didn’t, you probably expected my support of the Mayor of Boston and the government of Chicago in their stated desires to ban Chick-fil-A. Dan Cathy does enthusiastically oppose gay marriage, after all. In fact, I do agree wholeheartedly with the officials’ sentiments—we should not encourage or tolerate discrimination against our fellow Americans. Indeed, many conservatives have opposed discrimination from the days of classical liberalism to the Civil Rights Era—not always well, of course, but the history is there. Regardless of your political persuasion, we should be able to agree that undue discrimination is un-American and should be stomped out wherever found.
Which brings us to Chick-fil-A: what evidence suggests that the franchise discriminates against gay people? Neither the Mayor of Boston nor the officials in Chicago have cited any cases. They have not even suggested that they know of any, anecdotally or otherwise. These publically proposed bans are entirely ideological—that is, the president of a private company that provides private services has expressed an unpopular (in Chicago and Boston) political view. This is no better than if a town in the Bible Belt—where opposition to gay marriage remains high—had decided to ban Target or Bank of America for their support of gay rights. Both actions would blatantly contravene the spirit of our free-speech protections, even if the bans were somehow effected legally.
It is one thing to place special restrictions—e.g. banning political activity—on companies that receive government funds or tax exemptions. It is quite another to intrude into the private affairs of private entities in private practice. If Boston or Chicago are concerned about discrimination, they need only enforce the existing anti-discrimination laws in Massachusetts and Illinois, with which Chick-fil-A already must comply. If they want to promote a moral opposition to Dan Cathy’s politics, then they should employ that age-old weapon of American activism—the boycott. I’m told this tactic has worked wonders in the past.
Like the people who make statements by buying organic or local products, supporters of gay unions are free to avoid Chick-fil-A and encourage their friends and family to do the same. If the franchise is unable to prosper, it will pull out on its own. Thus, the activists will have their victory—which will be that much more powerful in its evident grounding in communal support—and nobody’s free speech or other rights will be violated.
The opponents of gay marriage already get this. This is why they’re talking more about a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day than about lawsuits. I disagree with their stance, but I wholeheartedly support the tactics.
We aspire to be a nation ruled by laws, not by men. Our elected officials should trust that the residents of their communities are capable of deciding what matters to them regarding food, politics, religion, or any other private matters.
Update: Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans has a brilliantly thoughtful piece for anyone invested in this issue. A little civility and mutual understanding can go a long way.