Chicken and Waffling

holy_cow.jpgOver 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.

2 thoughts on “Chicken and Waffling

  1. 1. I just read through last year’s comments. Sorry for all the long-winded babble that I wrote. I’d make an excuse, but the longevity would go against my apology.

    2. While I am totally, 100% in agreement with you on all of this, I am mystified by the “slippery slope” bit. Are you saying that accusing one party of guilt-by-association will start something of a domino effect? Sorry, I read the post twice, but my tired brain isn’t processing that bit.

    3. Running off slippery slopes: I, personally, do boycott things that are in some way funding things I find immoral. I couldn’t buy from a shop that supported Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, for example (or a Palestinian organization that wanted Israel eliminated completely).

    4. “Chick-fil-A” sounds like chicken stuffed with curd. “WinShape” sounds like WinZip’s socially-rejected younger brother.

  2. 1. Never seemed particularly long-winded to me; thoughtful comments are welcome here.

    2. Yeah, that does need more clarification. What I meant was this: one of the most common tactics of people in the US trying to ban same-sex marriage is to present it as if they’re not taking rights away from homosexuals, they’re defending themselves and their beliefs. That’s why they called the law the “Defense of Marriage Act” and use names like “National Organization of Marriage” while they destroy or outlaw marriages. One of the arguments you’ll hear a lot is: if a state, or the federal government, doesn’t ban same-sex marriages, then all churches will be forced to perform those marriages. If a church refuses to perform a same-sex marriage on the basis of its religious beliefs, the argument says that that church could be sued. Eventually they’d be forced by the government to change their beliefs to promote same-sex marriage.

    That argument is, of course, nonsense. A marriage ceremony is not a public service but a religious one; the establishment clause and the principle of freedom of religion guarantee that the government won’t interfere with a church’s rituals or beliefs unless they can be proved harmful (as with underage marriage or withholding medical services). Any lawsuit brought against a Christian church for not performing a same-sex marriage ceremony would be rejected almost immediately, just as if, say, a Muslim couple tried to sue a Christian church for not performing their ceremony.

    But that whole argument is designed to manipulate people’s fears — could the government force us to celebrate something we don’t believe in?! — and at the same time, make the bans going on all across the country sound like a defense instead of an attack on same-sex couples. Because you’re supposed to feel sympathy for people who are on the defense. Like, for example, people who grew up their whole lives wanting to be married and start a family some day, and are now being told they can’t because they’re not worthy of it.

    So the problem I have with the blogs I linked to is that they’re feeding into exactly that anti-same-sex marriage rhetoric. Of course, a consumer boycott isn’t the same thing as government intervention, but the claims in these blogs are dangerously close to the kinds of ideas people are being taught to fear. That a private organization could be punished not for infringing on someone else, but simply for having beliefs that are different from your own. So what if a private charity for marriage counseling doesn’t support same-sex marriages? Big deal. eHarmony.com doesn’t allow people to look for homosexual relationships; do we call for a boycott of that, too?

    3. Yes, and everybody should be free to hold a personal boycott over anything they feel strongly about. Or even for no reason at all. I wouldn’t want to be telling any group that they can’t boycott a company, and I do resent their implying some sort of moral or ethical failure on my part for not boycotting.

    For me, the question is how you define “support.” If a business is directly funding an organization, it’s pretty straightforward. Probably the same if the business advertised or put out a message saying “Down with Israel.” But what if it’s something the founder of the company believes, and it has nothing to do with the company’s business? What if the company’s execs use their private money to fund such an organization? What if it’s something you suspect the execs believe, but have never said publicly?

    4. It may only work for native English speakers. It’s a play on “chicken filet.”

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