Despite the fact that he did not mention same-sex “marriage” – and his comments were as much about divorce as homosexual relationships – there was a furor among gay rights groups and their corporate and political allies.
In response, The Jim Henson Company announced on July 20 that they will no longer provide Chick-fil-A with Muppets kids’ toys due to Cathy’s personal beliefs. The statement, released on Facebook, also informed that CEO Lisa Henson “is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD,” a gay-rights organization.
On the same day, the Boston Herald published an article in which Thomas Menino, the pro-gay Democratic mayor of Boston, told the paper that “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston” and warned that “if they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult – unless they open up their policies.” He made it clear that he would not be accommodating towards the fast food chain’s plans to build a branch near Boston’s Freedom Trail. He later backtracked on his threat.
Shortly afterwards, Chicago Democratic alderman John Moreno said that he will not allow Chick-fil-A to open a franchise in the ward he represents, calling the company “bigoted” and “homophobic.” On July 25, Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel came out in support of his alderman, telling the Chicago Tribune that the restaurant’s Christian beliefs “are not Chicago values.”
A July 19 statement from the company, though, told customers that “our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” and the restaurant chain’s policy is “to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” Indeed, Chick-fil-A has a reputation for quality service and despite a witch-hunt by some in the media – Newsweek set up a website asking for homosexual employees of Chick-fil-A to share their stories of maltreatment – there was no evidence of discrimination by the company.
The concerted action against Chick-fil-A sparked displays of support from some Republican politicians. Former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, now a radio and Fox News talkshow host, created a Facebook page, “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” that encouraged fans to eat at the restaurant on August 1. “Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion or profanity,” Huuckabee wrote, “but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.” The page had over 500,000 people commit to patronizing the restaurant on August 1.
Former Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum and renowned evangelist Billy Graham announced they would both be participating. Homosexual activists, on the other hand, planned to hold a “National Same Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A” days after the August 1 event.
On August 1, most news outlets (excepting the New York Times) reported on the massive outpouring of support for Chick-fil-A as stores were filled were customers and parking lots full of snaking lines of drive-through clients. As part of the grassroots movement, customers posted pictures of massive throngs of people waiting in line and cars in queues 20 deep (or more). One photo showed a line of cars filling the parking lot and continuing onto the street for an estimated 500 meters. Local broadcasts and online reports on social media indicate that the long lines were constant from before noon to the late evening.
The counter “Kiss Day” protest, fizzled, by comparison.
Chick-fil-A Appreciation won plaudits from even gay-rights libertarians. Law professor and author Glenn Reynolds, who blogs as Instapundit, wrote: “I don’t think this can be interpreted as opposition to gay marriage, so much as a response to bullying. But I do think that the bullying has probably tainted the gay-marriage brand, which is too bad. The gay-marriage argument is already winning – there’s no need to engage in Rahm Emanuel-style attacks, and doing so merely invites pushback. And, frankly, I’m happy to live in a country where people’s response to bullying is to push back.”
This is not the first time that a private company has come under fire for holding traditional views on marriage. In 2008, similar instances occurred in California after an initiative banning same-sex “marriage” (Prop 8) was passed by voters. Gay activists picketed and boycotted the El Coyote restaurant, where the owner’s daughter made a donation in favour of the initiative. Scott Eckern, the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre, and Richard Raddon, president of the Los Angeles Film Festival, were also forced to resign over making private donations to pass Prop 8.
This Summer, Newsweek/Daily Beast went to a social media website to look for “a current or former employee of Chick-fil-A who might want to spill the beans on life inside the alleged antigay company,” and asking them to contact the media organization. Rod Dreher of The American Conservative wrote: “This is all about some fake-journalism scheme dreamed up by a few extremely parochial, bourgeois anti-Christian bigots… it’s not about reforming a great social wrong. It’s about destroying the reputation of a restaurant whose owners are traditional Christians who share the views on marriage of half the country.”
Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute said that, although many liberal commentators condemned the discriminatory actions by city authorities against Chick-fil-A, “these same pundits also feverishly assured the public that… they condemn Dan Cathy’s views.” Higgins added, “I have no confidence that a decade from now our liberal pundits and columnists will be such vociferous defenders of free speech rights and religious liberty when it comes to homosexuality. We need only look at Canada to see our future.”