Widgets Magazine


Unterreiner: What to do about Chick-fil-A?

In an odd sort of way, I’m glad Dan Cathy said what he said. Because the messy public debate that has swirled around the Chick-fil-A corporate empire over the past month is one we should be having, and one that adds an important new set of voices to the defining civil rights issue of our time.

But the public needs to be a great deal more precise about what exactly we’re arguing about. This isn’t really one big argument; it’s actually a series of smaller, more specific debates, and it’s vital that the American public clearly define each one before coming to a reasoned, informed conclusion.

The first argument we could have, I suppose, is whether Mr. Cathy ought to be allowed, as the chief operating officer of a family-owned business, to publicly state his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage. I hope you’ll agree with me that the First Amendment case is pretty clear-cut and doesn’t need addressing here.

The second argument we could have is one about whether Cathy’s comments make good business sense. This is an empirical argument that (a) needs to be backed up by facts and figures, and (b) isn’t over yet, since the total financial impact on Chick-fil-A has yet to be determined. It’s therefore not a particularly useful argument to address seriously in this column.

The third argument we could have is a debate about whether local governments and municipalities, distressed by Mr. Cathy’s comments, in fact have the power to ban Chick-fil-A from opening or maintaining franchises within their jurisdiction. This is essentially a legal question, and the answer is an apparently clear “no.” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has pointed out that “denying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation.” Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf has observed that “the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids government officials from discriminating against a person or business based on the viewpoints expressed by the person or by a representative of the business.” And Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has declared that “the government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words.” One doesn’t need to be a legal expert to see why: Today’s Boston Chick-fil-A could just as easily become tomorrow’s Birmingham Starbucks.

This leaves us with only one fruitful debate to actually have: whether you, as an individual, will eat at Chick-fil-A. This is essentially a moral question that only individuals are equipped to answer, based on the convictions about marriage equality each person is entitled to have. Unlike marriage equality itself, this isn’t a question of rights or legal and political obligations, a problem that the courts or the legislature can solve for us. This is a question we must all answer for ourselves.

I’ve never eaten at a Chick-fil-A, and Mr. Cathy’s comments have now ensured that I never will. I won’t send my dollars to a corporation only to see my money turned around and donated to political lobbies dedicated to preventing gays and lesbians from entering into the same fulfilling, long-term relationships, protected and sanctioned by the state, that everyone else is allowed to enjoy. And I’m confident that in the long term, the tide of history will sweep away opinions like Mr. Cathy’s, and that the Americans of 50 years from now will look back on us and wonder what the hell took us so long.

But until that time, let’s enjoy one thing about this debate: the chance to glimpse the soul of America through the free and voluntary choices of its people. If you don’t like what Mr. Cathy said, make Chick-fil-A hurt. And if you do, go get a chicken sandwich there every day this week.

There’s not really anything else we have to talk about.

Tell Miles what you plan to do about Chick-fil-A at milesu1@stanford.edu.

  • pol_incorrect

    In fact, it had exactly the opposite effect on me. I didn’t go to Chick fil A on appreciation day because the only one close to the Bay Area is way too far. I will make sure to patronize their business next time I get close to one of their restaurants. You have drunk too much liberal KoolAid at Stanford to think clearly about what you say. In every case that gay marriage has been put to vote, and that includes uber liberal California, it has lost. Case in point: LA County. It voted overwhelmingly for Obama but it voted against gay marriage as well. Gay marriage is not as widely accepted as the pro gay marriage zealots want us to believe. Either the Gallup polls have serious methodological errors or people lie to them. Either way, polls, such as those done for prop 8 before the actual vote, tend to overestimate the support for gay marriage. 40 years ago (2-3 generations ago), the US Supreme Court rammed through the throats of the American people free lunch for abortion. Abortion remains as contentious as ever, gaining ground each year. In fact, 2010 was declared by Gallup the year in which being pro life became the new normal in the US. So much for the liberal utopia of morally destroying the US. You lost the moral battle on abortion and you will loss the moral battle on gay marriage.

  • Jean Djinni

    Gallup isn’t wrong. The various referenda on the issue of same-sex marriage have come down to turnout, as many elections do.
    As to historical comparisons, the issue of abortion is a poor on. In general, queer rights issues and debates are more similar to those over black rights in the 50s and 60s or those over women’s suffrage in the 1910s and 20s.

  • pol_incorrect

    Gallup is indeed wrong. You can hardly ask for a higher turnout than the one that approved Prop 8. And with respect to the Prop 8 polls prior to the actual vote, they were performed on likely voters, and yet, they predicted an outcome that was the opposite of the actual result.
    You are also wrong with your analogies to women’s/blacks rights for two reasons. First, gays already have every single one of the rights those people fought for (vote, no discrimination, no segregation, etc). You want to alter the institution of marriage in a very fundamental way, which is very different from fighting for the right to vote or the right not to be segregated. Gays are free to marry whomever they chose, it just need to be somebody of the opposite sex. A gay male can marry a lesbian any time he wants. Just as neither gays nor normal people can marry more than one person of the opposite sex. The definition of marriage = 1 man + 1 woman has nothing to do with the right to vote. Second, gayness is a matter of chosen behavior, very different from matters such as sex or ethnicity that are 100% determined by genetic reasons. Studies performed on identical twins show unequivocally that although gayness might have some genetic predisposition, the choice of being gay is a personal one. And this is important because there is genetic predisposition for many things (violence, pedophilia, bestiality) but only gays want that to be institutionalized. Few people are sympathetic to that, even though the lie to Gallup pollsters.

  • B. Perez

    While you make some valid and accurate arguments re freedom of speech and the 1st Amendment you fall apart when to you display your true colors and myopic knowledge re same sex marriage. While there are still 31 states with laws banning same sex marriage – I believe that any gay couple wishing to unite and enter into a domestic partnership should be able to do so and be afforded all the legal protections/benefits accorded any straight couple. There are plenty of laws on the books to that end and I would gladly campaign to the extent that they receive them all under a national domestic partnership process.
    But get real – a traditional marriage is between man and women – always has been. However, there’s plenty of room for all types – traditional and domestic partnership unions in this country!
    As for Mr. Cathy and Chick-fil-A, well – he’s built a solid company that employs “all people,” regardless of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or creed, founded on solid Christian values…many of the same ones that founded our great country. Even closes up shop on Sundays so that those wanting to attend church can do so if they wish. And at the very least stands up for his values – willing to risk his own business. While you on the other hand Miles, you just write a callous drive-by character attack directed at him, his business, and the estimated 247 million Christians in the United States in the Stanford Daily and then run for cover under the guise of enlightenment. Since when did it become acceptable for you to turn disagreement into hate? Shouldn’t the press at the minimum make an effort to state the truth?
    In any event, I imagine as proof of your high moral standards you probably don’t purchase gas from any US gasoline producer since we currently import about 52% (a lot) of our crude oil from OPEC countries who, as you know, have strict bans and even death penalty punishments against homosexuals and same sex marriages. You most likely get around campus, and all of Palo Alto for that matter, on bicycle or by foot – and I commend you. BTW – you must be furious and ready to bid adios to good ole Stanford since learning that this year’s 53rd Annual Catholic Charities Golf Day to Benefit Catholic Charities Summer Youth Programs was hosted by, and held at Stanford’s own University Golf Club! I know you’re very well aware how the Catholic Church and most Christian churches/groups view same sex marriage.
    So Miles, are you as virtuous as Mr. Cathy and going to stand up for your morals? You certainly felt compelled to tell us all your own personal feelings/hatered about all the Mr. Cathy’s of the world. You ready to depart Stanford since they most certainly partner, support, and donate “dollars” to organizations you can’t stomach nor support? I know you wont spend a nickel to purchase a sandwich at Chick-fil-A, what about Stanford? Interesting question, huh? In any event – if I see another op-ed in the Stanford Daily penned by you – I guess Americans now and 50 years from now will all know where you stood. PTL –

  • pol_incorrect

    There is no way this Miles guy, or any of the pro gay zealots at Stanford, are going to participate in the type of boycotts you suggest. That would be mean that they would need to be consistent. But here is the nature of the elitist liberal: driven by ignorance, inconsistency, and above all driven by hatred towards Christianity while Islam gets a pass. This, “I hate Christianity but I side with Islam” is probably where the nature of the liberal inconsistency and ignorance shows best. They are quick to label “bigots” all Christians that disagree with gay marriage just as they are quick to run in the defense of Muslims everywhere, like in the case of the Cordoba Initiative, when the reality is that most Muslims hold extreme anti gay (not just anti gay marriage) views. So!
    Bonus points: Miles should picket to demand that no Christian denomination or Islamic denomination that preaches against gay marriage be given access to Memorial Church.

  • CH

    I think you try to be comprehensive but you still end up over-simplifying the issues. The dollars you could potentially spend at Chick-Fil-A, more of it will go to the local people who work at Chick-Fil-A trying to earn a living than to the charities you oppose. These are real jobs in a lean times. There are also other debates that might not seem important to you since you are not part of the demographics that are holding them. E.g. Christians might debate how their beliefs should enter the public realm and in what manner since Mr. Cathy’s comments provoked an outcry in some quarters. There are a lot of Christians in this country, so your ‘only one fruitful debate’ is specific to your worldview. There is also the debate about how public officials should behave in a situation such as this one. Many mayors spoke out in a threatening manner only to backtrack when they realized it was inadvisable and perhaps unconstitutional to follow through with what they said. The constitutionality may be cut and dry, but the rules of discourse are not. I don’t know if your article clarified anything that wasn’t already clear, and I don’t know if it shed much light on a complicated issue besides shedding light on your views and action plan.

  • CH

    Actually, Miles I don’t know what your religious beliefs or political views are so apologies if it seems like I am making any assumptions about your ‘worldview’. I’m not, I’m just saying that there are a lot of debates going on about this topic that might not be on your radar because you approach it from your own angle. I just don’t think the only fruitful debate is whether you should eat a chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A or not.

  • Miles is a Christian, so I assume that this conversation is from a liberal Christian point of view. There are New Age Yid Tarot Card positions in France that crucify the male penis worshiper as a shit-head and clips him. It is said that Hitler had one ball and that John Gallianio has none. Maybe the New Age will work out gay rights for women before men. That seems to the direction where the Queen of France is going.