In recent days pro-traditional marriage groups in Maine and Washington state have sent emails to supporters referencing the Chick-fil-A controversy, with one of them warning "there will be profound consequences" if gay marriage is legalized. The National Organization for Marriage, a national group working in all four states to defend the traditional definition of marriage, also has referenced Chick-fil-A in multiple emails, saying in the latest one, "Let's bring the Chick-Fil-A crowds to the polls in November!"
Maine, Washington and Maryland are voting in November on whether to legalize gay marriage, while voters in Minnesota will decide whether to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. A victory for gay marriage supporters in any of them would be landmark, as the issue has lost in all 32 states where it's been on the ballot.
The emails reference pushback against Chick-fil-A by the mayors of Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.
"Maine voters should pay close attention to what is happening with the Chick-fil-A situation south of us along the I-95 corridor because this is what will happen here," Bob Emrich of Protect Marriage Maine -- which is trying to defeat a gay marriage ballot initiative -- wrote in an email to like-minded supporters. "Once the definition of marriage is changed, the government will come after anyone who refuses to go along. The implications of the threats from these powerful mayors is clear: If you do not go along, you will be punished."
The controversy over Chick-fil-A began when company president Dan Cathy told the Biblical Recorder newspaper that Chick-fil-A is "very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit." A radio interview then surfaced in which he had said, "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.'" Chick-fil-A's donations to groups that support biblical marriage also became an issue.
The mayors of Boston and Chicago initially threatened to block new Chick-fil-a restaurants in their cities, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying, "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values." In a tweet, Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called the restaurant's food "hate chicken" and said its "support of bigotry is an embarrassment." San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, "Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer." Philadelphia Councilman James Kenney told NPR that Cathy's comments amounted to "hate speech."
Traditional groups now are asking: What is the future for business owners with strong religious beliefs who oppose gay marriage?
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, told Baptist Press he believes the intimidation of Chick-fil-A will be an issue in the four states. It "potentially," he said, could have a "massive effect on the elections."
"It opened peoples' eyes to the consequences of redefining marriage," Brown said. "Because if just saying that you support marriage as the union of a man and a woman means that government can try to punish you -- and we don't even have same-sex marriage now -- what more would it mean if you had same-sex marriage throughout the country? A lot of people said, 'Enough is enough.'"
When hundreds of thousands of people took part in "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," Brown said, traditionally minded voters were heartened.
"I got hundreds of emails," Brown said, "and the constant refrain was people feeling a part of the community, people feeling like they weren't alone, people feeling like, 'I've always believed marriage is the union and a woman but I've been a little worried about sticking my head out, and now I'm here and we're singing God Bless America in the middle of Chick-fil-A and there's hundreds of us.'"
Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington -- which is trying to overturn a gay marriage law in the state -- wrote in an email to voters, "The aftermath of the Chick-fil-A CEO's support for traditional marriage gives us a clear indication of what could happen here in Washington if we do not preserve marriage."
"It is a great example," Backholm told Baptist Press, "of the kind of intolerance that the campaign to redefine marriage is really built upon. Once the public realizes that redefining marriage is not really about treating their gay friends and neighbors fairly -- which we already do here in Washington State by every measure -- I believe the examples of their efforts to interfere with people's ability to engage in commerce because of their beliefs about marriage will help us."
Similarly, Brown wrote in an email to voters, "The homosexual lobby's attack on Chick-fil-A isn't just a bullying of one of America's best businesses. It's a full-frontal assault on all of us who believe in the unchangeable definition of marriage as one man and one woman."
For its part, Chick-fil-A released a statement in July saying it treats every customer with "honor, dignity and respect" and that, "going forward," it is going to stay out of the gay marriage debate.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp). Read other resources about the gay marriage debate:
FIRST-PERSON (Daniel Akin): Is it true Jesus never addressed same-sex marriage?
FIRST-PERSON (Glenn Stanton): Why not legalize gay 'marriage'?
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