I don’t even want to do the research on this one.
Apparently supporters of Chick-Fil-A decided to turn out en masse at the restaurants Wednesday and celebrate something or other. Tasty chicken, free speech, religious liberty, traditional values, or some combination thereof, I suspect. I refuse to do the research because I get the general idea and I don’t want to raise my blood pressure.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the CFA firestorm, and I am no exception. With no doubt, I have to say this groundswell of support for the chicken hawker is the most misdirected turn of public opinion since–oh, never mind, I’ll just end up alienating some conservatives if I call out the last time it happened.
And those largely right-leaning folks are the ones I want to read this. Because there are some parts of this story that are being miscommunicated. To bring everyone up to speed, CFA prez Dan Cathy answered a question in a radio interview about gay marriage, and subsequently gay marriage proponents have roundly decided that KFC isn’t so bad after all. That’s the quick version, and from the knee-jerk responses I’ve read, most folks haven’t dug any deeper than those generalities. So let’s get some things straight (but not narrow):
Dan Cathy did not just “have an opinion” or “answer a question” or “express his religious beliefs.” He certainly did do that, but he did so much more. And not in the good way. Dan’s answer was very well-phrased, rhetorically charged, and absolute. It was deliberate. It was tactless.
“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,’” Cathy said. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
Sincerity and tact are two sides of a coin that we have to flip constantly in our everyday lives. Tact is more valued in professional relationships, whereas sincerity is more valued in personal relationships. If Cathy had made the above comment to a friend and it had been overheard and cited by an eavesdropping reporter, I very likely would continue to buy spicy chicken biscuits. If he had answered the question by saying that he simply did not support gay marriage due to his personal religious beliefs, I might be running downstairs to get a CFA original sandwich for a quick lunch today. And, no lie, I am drooling a little bit thinking about it.
In other words, if he had been tactful in his professional capacity on a publicly broadcast radio program, I’d support his right to his opinion. If he had been sincere and inadvertently had his comments amplified, I wouldn’t hold it against him. But I’ve coined a special phrase just for Mr. Cathy: “steering the lightning bolt.” This is the subversive rhetorical technique that some Christians use. They judge others and then point the finger at God, effectively saying, “Don’t look at me, God did it.” As if He had passed gas, not judgment. Cathy made a specific, directed, deliberate political statement.
This is why supporters say this is merely an opinion, and detractors say that it’s hate. By passing the buck to God, we who disagree are asked to take it up with our creator, and that’s an argument we’re not going to win. I’m not too swift on my Bible verses, but something about claiming to “know the mind of God” pops in my head. No offense, Mr. Cathy, but I can’t see my way clear to trust your theological interpretations. I wouldn’t dare disagree with you on how to market a waffle fry, but being presumptuous enough to suggest that God’s gonna get us for applying civil rights fairly across the board doesn’t ring true or seem to have much basis in Scripture.
You see, gay marriage isn’t a religious issue. Cathy and his buddies who have been pressure-cooked in the fryer of the Bible Belt want to make it that, and it can be that for them. It seems to me, though, that the Christian God is very tolerant of government: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” That’s in the Bible, isn’t it? That seems to me to be an implicit nod to the separation of church and state. So if government has its own structure outside of and independent from religion, then how does it follow that expanding a legal definition of marriage in order to guarantee equal access to the rights and privileges of marriage has anything at all to do with God or what He thinks? I’m not shaking my fist at God when I support gay marriage. I’m not even thinking about God.
If God crocheted a definition of marriage onto a throw pillow that he keeps on a chair in his den, or better yet, if you can find it in the Bible, I’m quite sure there’s nothing on that pillow or in that book that mentions tax filing status, inheritance rights, federal spousal benefits, or any of the thousands upon thousands of statutes in this country which have turned marriage into a legal contract that confers rights on its parties that cannot be obtained any other way. We’ve included personal income tax rates in the legal definition of marriage for a few generations now and God hasn’t unleashed his fury yet that I can pinpoint. That’s not part of what constitutes a biblical marriage. Neither is divorce for reasons other than adultery. Where’s God’s wrath over that legal presumption?
More importantly, though, by Cathy’s logic, any law that we put on the books that isn’t proved out in its entirety by the Bible could be construed as “shaking our fist” at God. In other words, Cathy lives in fear of divine retribution unless we turn the U.S. into a theocracy. I don’t think Cathy believes this; instead, I think he hates the thought of gays marrying and constructed an explanation that really only halfway works when you apply it to this one issue.
So, you see, his argument isn’t only thinly-veiled hate, its logic has poor construction and doesn’t make any real sense when you think about it.
But surely, millions have claimed, he has the right to have an incorrect opinion. Aren’t the city mayors across the country who have spoken out against CFA trying to censure Cathy’s free speech and his right to open businesses in their jurisdictions?
Um, no. At least not any moreso than the thousands of other businesses that have to apply for scarce urban real estate and navigate through the administrative hoops of zoning laws, exclusivity agreements, and business licenses. If just anyone could open a business just anywhere, what would be the point of a business license? It’s a right, but not an open-ended one. And any city planning commission, city council, and ultimately any mayor is charged with weighing the options and drawing a conclusion. And, hmm, maybe after a little reflection, they’ve decided the business whose very presence at this point offends a sizable part of their constituency just might not be the best choice of a tenant in the new shopping center downtown.
And for the record, no mayor I’ve seen quoted has ever outright said they would ban CFA; they’ve mostly stated that they wouldn’t welcome them in their cities. If the KKK wanted to open a linens store in downtown Baltimore in January and have a combination grand opening and white sale, I don’t think many eyebrows would be raised if the mayor said that wasn’t welcome. As has been repeated by several of my friends, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from ramifications related to your speech.
All back-and-forth aside, regarding what Cathy said or did not say, and whether he had the right to say it, and whether the reaction was too harsh, some of the individual responses I’ve seen on social media have been chilling to me. Some of the common reactions:
“I’m not gay, so it doesn’t affect me. I’m continuing to eat there.” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, said MLK from a jail in Birmingham, but I guess that’s now just something trite to put on a greeting card or quote every January.
“I only don’t eat there because the food sucks. It’s all garbage.” Not only is this absurdly dodging the issue being discussed, but thanks for making it clear that you don’t want to be mistaken for one of those people that give a damn.
“I’m tired of the liberal media attacking Cathy.” OK, sorry, Bub, that’s an entirely different post, but suffice it to say that I tire of the posturing on both sides of the media pretending like the side one is on is the one that always gets beat up.
“We need to remove marriage from our laws in the spirit of less government–that way, no one’s civil rights are infringed on.” This typically libertarian argument should be the example in the dictionary after the word “disingenuous.” For lack of a more tactful evaluation (we’re all friends, here, right?), that’s stupid. First, it’s stupid for a libertarian to support the immense administrative cost that would involve scrubbing the word “marriage” or “spouse” from every statute in every jurisdiction across the nation, rather than simply extending the right to marry to everyone. Second, as great of an idea as it might be on its own, it’s an awful, awful solution from a gay rights standpoint. Regardless of how you package and present it, such an action reeks of the “I gave you an inch, now you want to take a mile” punishment meted out to children who don’t appreciate the benefits they do have and subsequently have them taken away because one brat (read: gays) wants to abuse that benefit. If you want to abolish marriage from the government as a legal status, libertarians of the world, be my guest, but don’t link it to this argument. It’s very close to a cop-out.
“All this fuss over a chicken sandwich.” This comment, perhaps heard the most frequently, is kind of a big deal and really unsettling. In history, there are watershed events or turning points. The intrinsic significance of the event may not be large, but the impact on the larger dialogue and people’s perspective transcends whatever the initial stakes where. Saying that this controversy is about a chicken sandwich is like saying that the 1950s and -60s civil rights movement was about a bus seat.
In conclusion, I think the CFA controversy has drawn a line in the sand about who is all-in when it comes to gay rights and who isn’t. If Cathy had used Biblical arguments to support a personal position promoting racial segregation, there would have been no such “free-speech-yummy-chicken” lunch rally a couple of days ago. Everyone would have understood that he had crossed a line. My personal opinion is that those who chose to support CFA yesterday (and their apologists) don’t think of gay marriage as a “real” rights issue; otherwise, they would take Cathy’s fire-and-brimstone message against equal marriage rights with the same gravity they would have taken in the hypothetical segregation example. And for those that don’t remember, segregation was indeed fiercely defended by Bible-thumpers, ostensibly as part of their religious beliefs. Sound familiar?
I am heartened by the support of so many straight allies, however. Wednesday’s events demonstrate to me that gays are still just about the only group it’s ok to discriminate against, but the surprisingly strong outcry against Cathy’s remarks that prompted the whole thing tells me that we’re turning the corner. I prefer to think of the show of support for Cathy and CFA the equivalent of those moments after a chicken’s head is cut off that it continues to frantically run around.
Here’s to putting that chicken in the deep fryer and cooking its goose.