The debate over marriage equality has now moved from the complex realm of legislation, advocacy and policy to fast food counters across America.
During an interview with the Baptist Press in July, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy put the company in the middle of the marriage equality debate when he stated that the food chain is “guilty as charged” when it comes to its opposition to same-sex marriage. ”We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy told the Baptist Press.
In what has transformed into a national food fight, Cathy’s remarks sparked a public relations panic and thrust the company into the media spotlight, drawing heavy criticism from advocacy groups and organizations that support marriage equality. Within days, the company posted a semi-retraction on its Facebook page, but it proved too little to stop the escalating disaster. The Jim Henson Co. terminated a partnership with the chain, which featured the iconic Muppets toys in their kids’ meals. The mayors of Boston and San Francisco have both said that the chicken chain is not welcome in their cities. Even Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has weighed in on the controversy by tweeting, “Given my long standing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, I would not support #hatechicken.” According to YouGov’s Brand Index, Chick-fil-A has seen a huge slide in consumer support in the weeks since Cathy’s remarks.
Outrage against the company, however, has been far from universal. Prominent Republican politicians, including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, have thrown their political weight behind the calories in the “original chicken sandwich.” Huckabee even took the time to encourage the viewers of his Fox News program “Huckabee” to eat at their local Chick-fil-A restaurant on Wednesday, August 1, to show support for the company. In a form of counter-protest, other groups planned a national, same-sex kiss day at Chick-fil-A restaurants on August 3.
Over the past several weeks, this story has caused a media fervor. However, in the context of today’s 24/7 news cycle, controversies such as these tend to be a flash in the pan. Highly publicized news events bring controversial issues into public debate, but often fade as quickly as they come. While it is important to recognize that there are companies and organizations like Chick-fil-A that oppose marriage equality, we must not lose sight of the larger issue here. Cathy’s comments may have grabbed headlines and captivated American audiences for now, but this discrimination is not a new phenomenon. The LGBT community is and has been denied basic civil rights in regards to marriage. This accounts for almost six million of our fellow Americans who are unable to fully enjoy their civil rights. Choosing not to indulge in a chicken sandwich as a stand for LGBT rights may seem like a significant step for many; but is that all we can do?
As a nation, we are steadily making great leaps toward ensuring LGBT rights. In May, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to endorse marriage equality. On July 30, the Democratic Party adopted LGBT rights as a part of its party platform. Yet these gains have been overshadowed by the practices of a fast food chain. In a time when we as a nation are making such positive steps, we need to keep pushing until we reach the goal of equal rights for everyone. Helping advocacy organizations, being actively involved in political organizations, or just supporting our LGBT friends, family and neighbors can make a difference.
Let’s debate these issues in a meaningful and appropriate way. Not over a fast food counter.