Originally posted on NextGenJournal.com. For original, please refer to: When Chick-fil-A-Gate Broke: A Requiem in Five Acts – NextGen Journal.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
The Chick-fil-A Debacle of 2012 has come to a close (for the moment), and now that the dust has settled and the eruption of controversy over whether the CEO of a mildly-above-average fast food chain has the right to hate on marriage equality or not has ended, we can all take a step back and wonder exactly what the hell went wrong with America for two weeks.
Let me be clear: Standing up for what you believe in is a very good thing. As a man who loves opinions, I’m all for making a stand. But I’m dismayed that the debate over marriage equality, which has been ramping up since Prop 8 passed in California more than four years ago, came to a head in the form of bickering over Chick-fil-A.
Unfortunately, much as America might want to forget its most absurd political battle in recent memory, there are lessons to be learned from the ordeal. So let’s take a look back and see how this hot mess came to be.
Act One: Delayed Reaction
Before we even get into the more recent mess, it’s important to note that anyone who thinks Chick-fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy just up and decided one day to say ‘boo’ to marriage equality hasn’t done their research. Chick-fil-A has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay groups in the past — $2 million in 2010 alone. While the company may not have made an official statement about the issue before, one look into their finances makes clear that Cathy is an opponent of Adam and Steve.
However, the mainstream media only decided to pay attention after Cathy finally made a statement. Not only is this a testament to how poorly the issue was covered, but it also allowed Cathy’s defenders to make an entirely different argument — more on that later.
Act Two: The Statement and the Hypocrisy
As almost everyone knows by now, Cathy spoke in an interview with the Biblical Recorder in support of what he called the Biblical definition of the family, saying that his company was “guilty as charged” about their stance against marriage equality.
Those words ignited a firestorm of controversy — which is strange, because that was hardly the most inflammatory thing Cathy said this summer. No, that was easily his statement on The Ken Coleman Show, where he claimed that to support marriage equality is to provoke the good Lord’s wrath.
“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,’” Cathy said. “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.”
Why that quote was underreported, while his statement where he did nothing but state his opinion was plastered all over, baffles me. As a Christian, I’m highly offended by his suggestion that my support of marriage equality means I’m prideful and arrogant. Not only that, but he’s clearly a hypocrite: how does he know what marriage is about? Why is he any less arrogant for assuming he can interpret Scripture into today’s customs and standards? Personally, I think that’s where Cathy crosses a line, not in his basic exercise of free speech.
Act Three: The Boycott and the Support
Regardless of any silly First Amendment protections, supporters of marriage equality decided to boycott Chick-fil-A because of Cathy’s statement, which, of course, they have every right to do. As plucky little Courtney Clem of Crystal City, Va. told ABC News: “We want to support their right to an opinion.” Of course, she was talking about Chick-fil-A, but that only stands to make my point.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and others decided to support Chick-fil-A, because hey, they have a right to do so, as well. Huckabee announced Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, to be held on August 1, which at the time sounded like the kind of empty gesture politicians often make that everyone just forgets about.
Act Four: The Appreciation Day and the Kiss-In
For whatever reason, Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was a rousing success for the fast food chain.Hundreds of thousands came out to support Chick-fil-A either because a) they don’t support marriage equality; b) they support ‘free speech;’ or c) they were hungry for a chicken sandwich. The whole thing just reeked of bullying, especially when tweets like these were rolling in.
Bullying or not, though, the free speech defense is where we hit the main issue. While the marriage equality haters were going to support Chick-fil-A no matter what, plenty of visitors like Miss Courtney Clem were able to hide behind the ‘free speech’ defense because the virulent media reaction was to Cathy’s public statement, not the millions of dollars Chick-fil-A donated to anti-gay groups. Refusing to support a company because they turn around and donate your dollars to groups that fight against your interests is a whole different ball of wax than a simple free speech issue.
Regardless of why, the company hit record sales, though they didn’t divulge specific numbers. Marriage equality supporters didn’t react well to this. A kiss-in was already planned for the next day, but while some same-sex couples got very cute photos out of the protest, it had little-to-no effect compared to the behemoth that was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
Disturbingly, there was at least one report of graffiti on a Chick-fil-A in Torrance, Calif. “Tastes like hate,” the graffiti read, and though it’s entirely possible one might think their chicken sandwich tastes a little funny, it was hardly reason to vandalize private property. Additionally, the favorite word to toss at Chick-fil-A supporters became “fat,” something Lindy West at Jezebel took issue with in a far better manner than I ever could.
Ultimately, it was clear by the end of it all that marriage equality supporters had lowered themselves to their opponents’ level through hateful words and actions, and the whole thing had become a giant miserable mess of bullying and name-calling. In short: no one came off looking good.
Act Five: Where Do We Go From Here?
So now that the dust has settled, what happens? I’m not sure how Chick-fil-A is going to be affected — I’d imagine both the boycotting and the support will return to normal levels soon enough. UCLA’s Daily Bruin is reporting that their campus’ reaction to the restaurant’s potential Westwood location is a big ol’ ‘meh,’ so maybe the activism is already winding down.
As far as the fight for marriage equality is concerned, though, I’m really nervous about the negative turn this fight took. In order to see marriage equality become a reality, we need smart, positive arguments, like the one Suze Orman made on her CNBC show earlier this summer. Descending into bitter fights full of vandalism and name-calling isn’t how this battle is going to be won.
I’m hopeful that with so many young people in support of marriage equality and Democrats making the issue part of their party platform, marriage equality will materialize sooner rather than later. Let’s just avoid the mud fights until then, shall we? Especially if we’re fighting over fast food.