Chicken Run

Posted: Jul 29, 2012 12:01 AM
Chicken Run

Gay marriage, the Muppets, and a fast-food chicken franchise: what do they have to do with each other? Nope, it’s not about Bert and Ernie’s eating habits.

It’s a question of free speech amidst political disagreement.

Dan T. Cathy told a Christian news organization that his company, Chick-fil-A — founded by his father, S. Truett Cathy — supported the traditional, and quite Biblical, definition of “the family unit.” (Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t use the ugly term “family unit.”) The Southern-fried chicken fast-food chain and its management have long had this position. It’s not new. Indeed, this should surprise no one, since the idea of gay marriage is itself fairly new — at least in legal terms. Of course many folks are going to hold to a traditional idea. It’s not controversial that this is controversial.

Still, a contentious issue has two sides, and some of Cathy’s opponents decided that a bit of protest was in order, so they’ve set August 3 as the date for a “same-sex kiss-in” at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country. It is sort of legal, if not exactly to my taste. (I don’t want heterosexual couples smooching near where I’m eating, either. I embrace public protest, but, frankly, protest public embracing.)

Next, Mike Huckabee declared August 1 as Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum then sided with Huckabee to rally his Twitter followers to patronize Chick-fil-As in the very opposite of a boycott, to show support.

The Jim Henson Company, which had a long business relationship with the company, then declared it would donate its receipts from Chick-fil-A toy sales to a prominent gay/lesbian cause.

And then it got ugly. I mean political. Politicians in Chicago and Boston said they’d block Chick-fil-A from opening branches in their cities.

This last escalation runs over the line.

It’s one thing to withhold one’s patronage from a restaurant. It’s the same thing to support whatever non-violent cause you like, by going to a particular restaurant or in other ways. But running a business out of town because you don’t agree with the cause that some of the business’s managers or owners happen to espouse? That’s not upholding the rights of citizens — certainly not the right to buy from whomever they want or sell to whomever they want.

People in government don’t get to officially discriminate according to their private values. Why? Because they are in service (or are supposed to be in service) to all of us. Therefore, they must be impartial. They must treat us, consumers and businesses, alike, according to the same standard.

The willingness to use coercive government power to favor people who favor your causes, and disfavor people whose causes you oppose, is a flagrant violation of rights, and a complete over-stepping of basic limits on government. It’s tyrannical. It’s what really bad guys do.

And it is indicative of an odd ideological dissonance.

The innovation of granting official “marriage” status to same-sex couples rests entirely on the idea of equality before the law and freedom of contract. Leave it to politicians to abridge those very notions in their support for gay marriage.