American businesses have every right to take public positions on controversial issues. If they want to mix business and politics, that’s up to them.
Consumers have every right to mix business and politics too.
Through its affiliated foundation, Chick-fil-A has long supported organizations that take anti-gay stands that I do not agree with morally or politically. But I’ve continued to eat occasionally at Chick-fil-A, despite knowing that I really ought to quit eating fast food entirely. The store on Savannah’s Southside has been an occasional stop for a few years now on my way to Armstrong. The service is fast and pleasant. The food is both good and consistent — it’s clearly a step ahead of most fast food restaurants in this city.
I admired that Chick-fil-A would close on Sunday; it’s rare to see a major corporation take a religious position that would so obviously cut into business. (Never mind the fact that the policy is not as pro-family as the chain has claimed, since many of their employees would no doubt love to pick up Sunday shifts because of other jobs, child care issues, differing religious beliefs, etc.)
Still, the company’s positions made me wonder over the years if I should be spending my money there. But it was a pretty easy call to continue my flirtation with Chick-fil-A.
As consumers in America, we make moral compromises all the time. I don’t know how much exploitative or even child labor went into the shoes I bought recently. I don’t know how many GMOs are in products I’ve recently purchased at Kroger. I don’t know exactly where all those oil company profits go when I fill up the tank. Those are complex issues, and I don’t quite know how to deal with them in my own life and in my own choices.
But last week Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy presented me with an easy choice. Based on his unambiguous statements about the company’s position on marriage equality, I will not be spending money there again. It’s an easy call — the low hanging fruit of moral choices. If I get a fast food craving I can’t resist, I’ll just go somewhere else.
Cathy made not one but two relevant statements recently. First, in a radio interview, Cathy said that proponents of same-sex marriage have “a prideful, arrogant attitude.” Then he followed that up with an interview with the Baptist Press:
Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.
So that is the “company’s position.”
Chick-fil-A tried to backpedal a few days later with a statement that included this line: “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
But the corporation, through its president, has already stated its position. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle by saying they just don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Chick-fil-A’s critics knew that, and some were roundly criticized for being overly sensitive or hypocritical or politically correct in saying they wouldn’t patronize the chain anymore.
Of course, Mike Huckabee, an opponent of marriage equality, also knows that the genie is out of the bottle. The company has taken a position, and he is urging support of Chick-fil-A’s stand by asking for a mass movement to eat there on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”. Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page is now embroiled in the bitter controversy that Cathy created and that Huckabee has intensified exponentially.
Again, note that this brouhaha was entirely of Cathy’s making. No gay rights organizations solicited his comments or suddenly made a new issue of the company’s position. Check out Chick-Fil-A Surprises Some With Gay Marriage Talk.
I went to Chick-fil-A so rarely that my business won’t be missed. But lots of others are just going to make different fast food choices, and sales to groups like schools and offices are going to get hit pretty hard in some places.
By throwing the company into such a hot controversy, Cathy has clearly shrunk the customer base. And he has every right to do that.
Just as people like me have every right not to go there.
What would it take for Chick-fil-A to get my business back?
I pondered that question a little. It would take the replacement of Dan Cathy, an apology for taking a public position, a statement that the foundation would no longer support groups with positions on same-sex marriage. The company will also have to figure out how to distance itself from efforts like Huckabee’s, but that would happen as a matter of course if Chick-fil-A ever takes those steps.
Until then, as I drive past Chick-fil-A, I’ll imagine every day is Sunday.
I’ll close by noting the interesting irony in that many of us heard about Huckabee’s plans on the same day that we learned that astronaut and physicist Sally Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.