What It Do: Chicken Little

I’ve eaten a good amount of Chick-Fil-A over the years, especially while holding down shopping mall retail gigs. It can be a nice change-up from the routine. The fries are banging and the prices reasonably humble. Just don’t try to get any on a Sunday.

But when owner Dan Cathy publicly came out against gay marriage, I downgraded my Chick-Fil-A consumption rate from rare to never. This was my personal decision. I believe gay people should be able to get married and grow to despise the sight of each other just like everyone else, and am willing to make decisions about where I spend my money in support of that belief.

Furthermore, I don’t understand why so many people are opposed to it, even on religious grounds. The same parts of the Bible that reference homosexuality also strictly forbid the lending of money at high interest rates, yet I don’t see church groups organizing against credit card companies or payday lenders.

And as far as “sanctity of marriage” goes, I tend to view divorce, neglect, alcoholism, abuse, emotional dysfunction and plain old fashioned lust as much more damaging than the legal recognition of a relationship between two gay people.

It seems obvious to me. Clearly, not everybody feels this way.

So I can appreciate people who have been more forceful in their reaction to Cathy’s statement, from organized boycotts to protests—within the bounds of reason. But when people do things like rant at the customers, or go through the line and order only a water, they aren’t making some clever statement and certainly not fighting the good fight. They are simply making the lives of some underpaid fast food employees that much more degrading.

Dan Cathy doesn’t have to deal with people who disrupt things. Some employee—who presumably wasn’t asked their opinion on gay marriage by Cathy—does.

And no one’s mind is changed.

Rahm Emanuel also did the cause of equality no favors by making noise about preventing Chick-Fil-A from opening a new location in Chicago, specifically because of Cathy’s stance on gay marriage. Nor, do I imagine, was that his intent.

Rather, were it possible to take a peek inside the mind of Chicago’s mayor, I would expect fundraising was his chief thought while he stirred the chicken pot.

All this controversy led Mike Huckabee to sponsor a “National Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day,” where throngs of supporters—and more than a few detractors—crowded Chick-Fil-A locations all across the country. In Chicago, the line reportedly stretched around the block.

Some of the people who went reportedly had no strong opinion on gay marriage but perceived the attacks against Chick-Fil-A as mean-spirited and unfair.

The opponents of gay marriage seek to prolong and, whenever possible, intensify people’s perception of gay people as the “other” and supporters of gay marriage as overly aggressive and disrespectful. Moments such as Huckabee’s chicken festival are golden for them, because it causes people who may be less opposed to gay marriage to form a tribal bond with staunch opponents.

There is a tendency on the part of a vocal minority of gay marriage supporters to view the opposition as hateful bigots. And it’s not that there aren’t some truly hateful bigots out there.

But a large number of Americans who oppose gay marriage do so out of tribal identification—because it’s what their pastor and fellow churchgoers and golfing partners and parents and siblings believe. Not because they hate gay people.

Recognizing this doesn’t make that opposition any more hurtful to people who must have a difficult time understanding why their relationship is such a problem for strangers. Nor does it make the consequences for those people any less unjust. And it doesn’t mean that supporters of gay marriage should be any less vocal or persistent—merely that there are more productive ways to direct that energy.

It is important to keep one’s eye on the ball. Turning Chick-Fil-A into some sort of a cultural battleground has only served to solidify the tribal loyalty that forms the glue holding the opposition to gay marriage together. And it does nothing to advance the cause of equality and human respect.

If you don’t like what Dan Cathy said, then don’t spend your money with his company. And, if you feel so inspired, you have every right to encourage others to do likewise.

But bear in mind that George Takei probably accomplishes more for equality with a corny Facebook post than dozens of well-meaning protesters making life difficult for some fast food employees.

People like Takei are so important because they perform the necessary work of helping America discover that its gay citizens are pretty much just like the rest of us—they are inspired by the same things, laugh at the same things, and want the same things from life.

When a critical mass of people reach that perception, the battle is over, and all this controversy generated by the owner of a chain of mediocre chicken joints will seem silly.