I'd never actually heard of Chick-fil-A until the recent homophobic outburst of their COO Dan Cathy. Fried chicken is not really my thing, and the stores don't even exist in Seattle. For anyone who missed the comments that started the controversy, Cathy 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'. I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.
The media showed about two minutes of outrage at what Cathy said from the left, followed by two weeks of counter-outrage from the right. Most of the right-wing push-back came from redefining the issue as one of freedom of speech. Apparantly, there is freedom of speech for conservatives to bully the LGBTQ community, but no freedom of speech for LGBTQ-friendly people to protest.
First, the facts: this was not an isolated speech against same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A has been running a long-term anti-LGBTQ campaign, financed by their fried chicken sales.
* The company openly bases its policies on the Southern Baptist religion of the Cathy family; the official corporate policy is "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
* Both the Cathy family owners and the company itself funnel money into the WinShape Foundation, which is directly controlled by the Cathy family and runs almost entirely on Chick-fil-A / Cathy funding. This foundation pours millions of dollars every year into anti-LGBTQ groups, such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Exodus International (which runs the psychologically damaging anti-gay conversion programs). The WinShape Foundation also discriminates against LGBTQ employees, for example not allowing same-sex couples to attend events.
* Chick-fil-A also directly sponsors other anti-LGBTQ groups, such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute, when they attempted to block anti-discrimination legislation passing in Pennsylvania. They also sponsor organisations that are trying to keep the homosexuality a criminal act around the world, endorsing laws that lead to the executation of people based simply on their sexuality.
* Within the company, Chick-fil-A discriminates against employees based on their conservative Christianity. Under the applicable employment laws, they can legally fire people for being "sinful"; there are also documented cases which probably cross the line into illegal activity, such as firing an employee for refusing to pray to Jesus.
So when you hear conservatives trivilising the actions of Cathy as "simply making a speech in favour of traditional marriage" (as The Economist put it), remember that the context is that of a family and company that directly and indirectly persecuates people based on their religion and sexuality. In this context, almost all the protests against Chick-fil-A have been completely legitimate expressions of free speech. Only two comments shoiuld even be controversal - the Mayor of Boston and an Alderman in Chicago said that they wanted to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in their areas. They didn't propose any legislation and rapidly backed down from their comments, so we don't know whether they were saying something that is probably unacceptable (proposing policy to specifically punish one company) or if they were proposing a positive policy like that of several university campuses - a law stating that any company which wishes to operate in the area must not discriminate based on sexuality. This would not be a law which specifically targetted Chick-fil-A, but rather it would force any company that wanted to operate in these areas to change their corporate code, a move which would benefit employees that work in franchises all over the country. This, of course, would be legally and ethically acceptable, as all companies would face the same choice: to change national corporate policy and operate within Boston and Chicago, or to not modify corporate policy and to withdraw from these districts.
The vast majority of people who came out against Chick-fil-A were against the content of Cathy's speech, not the right of Cathy to make that speech. There were no calls to imprison or fine Cathy for his obnoxious views. Yes, people openly disagreed with Cathy, but that is also freedom of speech. Yes, people called for a boycot of Chick-fil-A, but according to the Supreme Court, spending money is speech. Freedom of speech protects Cathy's right to make offensive statements, it does not mean that he will not face financial or social consequences for airing them.
Since freedom of speech was never in doubt, I'm going to come right out and state the obvious - those who participated in "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" are simply cowardly bigots. The First Ammendment was never under threat, by buying fried chicken you were not supporting the right of Cathy to be obnoxious; rather, if you turned up and gave money to Chick-fil-A you were supporting the content of Cathy's speech. Let's take an uncontroversal example, that of the Westboro Baptist Church. Almost everyone in America would publically call Pastor Phelps obnoxious (his anti-LGBTQ hatred is not that different from Chick-fil-A, but he combines it with an anti-US military stance that repels left and right). Time and again, Phelps says something hateful and people condemn him for it. Supporting the First Ammendment doesn't stop you from condemning Phelps' views, as long as you affirm his right to have them. So if you hear Phelps says "God Hates Fags" and you respond by sending the Westboro Baptist Church a donation, it is pretty obvious that you agree with his views. Likewise, if you responded to Cathy's anti-LGBTQ speech by giving money to Chick-fil-A, it is pretty obvious you agree with his views, even if you are too cowardly to publically admit it. How about next time you spare a thought for the real people that you are hurting with you actions, such as this man:
I am a gay Christian. This whole Chick-fil-A controversy meant nearly nothing to me until I saw a picture of my conservative parents (whom I love deeply) on Facebook yesterday proudly holding their Chick-fil-A sandwiches. I broke down crying in front of my computer screen.
When the National Organization for Marriage, supporting Chick-fil-A, saw this criticism of the type of "traditional marriage" endorsed by Cathy, they agreed with it: "Look carefully at the image and you will see that in ALL of the examples, both genders are represented. This image reinforces the conservative position about needing a gender requirement."
The last word just has to go to Jon Stewert:
For people who are gay or support gay marriage, I get how seeing thousands of people come out to make this statement is incredibly disheartening, but take solace in this: Gay marriage is happening. Like many drive-through window lanes, it ain’t going backwards. And your bonus is this: You get gay marriage, and all your political opponents are going to get is Type-II Diabetes.