Over a year ago I wrote a post about a videogame being sold under the name of virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card, and why I thought an informal boycott of the game was justified. I thought it raised some pretty interesting questions, and a couple of interesting responses in addition to the predictable BS drive-by comments. In particular: where are the lines drawn? What constitutes making a stand, and what’s just a petty attempt to punish people for having different beliefs from you?
Lately, there’s been something of a campaign against Chick-fil-a restaurants because of the restaurant’s ties to groups that campaign against same-sex marriage. It’s been a question for years, how closely the restaurant and/or its founders are associated with the National Organization of Marriage and Focus on the Family, if they’re associated at all. Most recently, the issue was a contribution to an event by anti-gay marriage group called the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an association that Chick-fil-A finally responded to with a cover-your-ass PR video which, unfortunately, didn’t say much of anything.
But it’s always been a case of guilt by association. Providing free food for an event by this group, members of the board also being members of this other group, that sort of thing. The blog posts always start out with righteous fury, and then fizzle out once the link turns out to be tenuous at best.
Now the blog Good As You is insisting there’s a clear link between the restaurant and anti-gay rights groups, and they have an e-mail exchange that will prove all of Chick-fil-A’s apologists have been wrong! A-ha! Finally, a smoking gun! Another blog, change.org, picked up the story with the headline Yes, Chick-fil-A Says, We Explicitly Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples.
Except they don’t say that.
The actual situation is this: the restaurant chain has a charitable arm called the WinShape Foundation. One focus of WinShape is WinShape Marriage, which sponsors retreats and “adventures” for “enrichment” of relationships. The writer of the blog (presumably) sent an e-mail to WinShape asking if its programs were open to homosexual couples. The answer was that they are not, because “WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman.”
Granted, “The Charitable Arm of Chick-fil-A Admits It Does Not Admit Same-Sex Couples to Its Marriage Enrichment Retreats” isn’t quite as shocking a headline as “Chick-fil-A Says We Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples,” and it’d be less likely to get people clamoring to sign up for your facebook petition. But even on the internet, don’t we have some kind of obligation to accuracy?
I have little doubt that the Cathys (the family that founded and still runs Chick-fil-A) are in opposition to same-sex marriage. They’re publicly religious, the restaurant has been closed on Sunday since its founding, and thousands of religious people in Georgia still believe that Christianity and homosexuality are incompatible. It wouldn’t even surprise me to learn that they’ve made personal donations to NOM or other anti-gay rights groups, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they voted for the same-sex marriage ban in Georgia.
But isn’t that their right? When we campaign for marriage equality, aren’t we campaigning for the right to believe things that other people may find abhorrent? Isn’t the entire campaign based on the principle that we all deserve equal freedoms as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of other people? Isn’t the promise that individuals will be free to choose for themselves what to believe, but the government can’t make such a distinction? That churches will remain free to hold ceremonies only for couples who hold their beliefs, just as they are now?
I couldn’t get married in a synagogue, because I’m not Jewish. And I couldn’t get married in most southern Baptist churches, because I’m gay. I don’t see that as grounds for activism. It doesn’t infringe on my rights until they start actively campaigning to deny me the right to marry. Being closed to me is not the same thing as being against me. And the restaurants are still not closed to me.
WinShape’s e-mail response, and their policy, may be enough grounds for some people to stage a boycott of Chick-fil-A. And that, of course, is their right. But it’s definitely not enough for me. In the case of the video game, Card didn’t just say that he doesn’t like homosexuals — he actively campaigns against gay marriage and in support of homosexual “rehabilitation.” Ties between Chick-fil-A and anti-gay rights activist groups are still a lot more tenuous.
If Good As You can present a genuine link between Chick-fil-A’s revenue and a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage, then I’ll be glad to join in a boycott. Until then, I resent their implication that anybody who’s not outraged by their accusations is being in denial, or somehow complicit with marriage bans. And I resent their continued practice of guilt-by-association, which just gives more fodder to the “slippery slope” arguments. I’m tired of people giving bigots and homophobes the opportunity to go on the defensive — to institute bans on equal rights while insisting they’re the ones whose freedom is being threatened.
No doubt I’ll be accused of making an exception just because I’m an unabashed fan of Chick-fil-A’s food, but I’ll just point out that they’re still impossible to get here in the Bay Area.