The fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has landed in the middle of the same-sex marriage debate. The company's president has been heavily criticized by some people for comments he made against gay marriage. Now, some politicians from across the country are saying the company is not welcome in their towns. Host Michel Martin speaks with James Kenney, Philadelphia councilman-at-large about the controversy.
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. As the world watches Olympic athletes go for the gold, we decided to check in with some dedicated sports moms about how parents can encourage their kids in sports without becoming, you know, those people. That's later in the program.
But first we want to talk about chicken and politics. No doubt by now, you've heard about the controversy around Chick-fil-A. The restaurant chain has come under heavy criticism for comments made by the president, Dan Cathy, about same-sex marriage. Cathy told a syndicated radio host last month that he supports the biblical definition of family. Here's a little bit of that conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST)
DAN CATHY: I think we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, you know, we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would - the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.
MARTIN: Those statements set off protests and picketing at some of the Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country, and now some political leaders are getting involved, too. The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, and the mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, have all said that the restaurant is not welcome in those cities now.
But former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee - he's now a talk show host - has declared tomorrow Chick-fil-A appreciation day, and he's encouraging people to eat at Chick-fil-A because he says that some of his fellow political leaders are going too far, and that Cathy has a right to his personal opinions.
We wanted to take a look at this issue from a few different perspectives and hear some dissenting views, and we also want to talk about how you might want to think about this or what framework you might want to employ when you think about how you want to spend your money.
First, though, we want to speak with Philadelphia Councilman-at-Large James Kenney, and he's with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
JAMES KENNEY: My pleasure.
MARTIN: I do want to mention that we reached out to Chick-fil-A, and they declined to participate in our conversation. They said they want to leave the debate about same-sex marriage in the political arena from now on. But Councilman Kenney, you're with us now. You wrote a letter to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy suggesting he, quote, "take a hike." I wanted to ask what specifically are you suggesting that he do?
KENNEY: Well, that's a euphemism that we use - we're Philadelphians, so we speak our mind. I did not advocate that they be run out of town or not allowed to open a business. I wanted him to take his discrimination and bigotry and take a hike. I think people should know when they go to the counter of a retail store or food store, wherever they go, that potentially some of their money is going to be used to discriminate against other Americans.
This is a country that is governed by the U.S. Constitution, not by the Bible. I, as a straight American male, have a right to marry and to get all the benefits - both tax deduction, health care, pension sharing and other hospital visitation rights - that any other heterosexual person can get. I do not believe, based on the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that those rights should be denied to anyone because of who they are and their sexual orientation.
Mr. Cathy has every right to express those bigoted beliefs, but I think that Americans and Philadelphians - as far as I'm concerned - should be aware that, potentially, that the profits or money that he receives as a result of these franchises could be used to give money to groups that are actually out there advocating that sodomy laws be put back in place in state legislatures and criminalizing, you know, homosexuality.
MARTIN: So just for the sake of clarity, you are not going as far as some political leaders in other cities have done, saying you're not trying to block them from coming into the city. You're not trying to revoke zoning permits or anything of that sort. But you simply want to bring attention to these views.
KENNEY: Well, Mr. Cathy has outed himself and his bigotry. I've read what he said. This is the first time I've heard it. And I think when you hear it, it's even more stunning, his position, which is - it's just extremely backward. Look, I think the Bible is an extremely important document in our world's history, but it is a bit dated.
It's 3,000 years old, and there are sections in that Bible that allow people to stone their wives and own slaves. I don't think that he would advocate that, either.
MARTIN: Well, can I just stop you for a second? Is there any evidence or do you have any evidence that that company has discriminated against gay people, or people who are in same-sex marriages? Do you have any evidence of that?
KENNEY: No. I mean, and I don't think they did, because they'd be in violation of federal law and would receive those sanctions. Again...
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you this, though. What about - does he have a right to express his personal views? I mean, I just want to point out here again that the Whole Foods CEO John Mackey advocated against the Affordable Care Act. And while some people raised attention to that, I don't remember people saying that they should boycott him for that. So at what point do you think somebody has a right to express their personal opinions, and at what point do you feel you have a responsibility to step in about that?
KENNEY: I think that everyone has a right to express their personal opinions. The First Amendment is sacred. Believe it or not, in this country, the Second Amendment is sacred. I can go on the Internet and buy an AR15 and 6,000 rounds of ammunition and worry about going to see a movie. But I think that people should hold the 14th Amendment as sacred as those two.
Equal protection under the law means equal protection under the law. And, again, I am not saying that Mr. Cathy can't hold his views. I am saying that in Philadelphia, if you go to a Chick-fil-A counter, that you should know that some of that money is being used to discriminate against other Americans...
MARTIN: How is it being...
KENNEY: And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
MARTIN: That's the question I'm asking you: How is that money being used to discriminate against other Americans?
KENNEY: He spends $2 million a year or more to fund groups that are advocating the reestablishment of sodomy laws in the state legislatures around our country.
MARTIN: Is that his personal money, or is that from a PAC that the company employs? I mean...
KENNEY: No. It's coming from profits on franchising that Americans - or Philadelphians, as far as I'm concerned, because that's what I'm concerned about here - Philadelphians are spending their money. If you listen to what he says and you have no problem with going to that counter, God bless you. I will never go to that counter again based on that discrimination that he promotes.
He has a right to promote it. He has a right to have his hate speech. I have a right to withhold my money.
MARTIN: We're going to hear from another voice in a minute, someone who has a different perspective, who certainly does not oppose same-sex marriage, but who has a different perspective about how to approach the Chick-fil-A controversy. But one of the points she's made is that Chick-fil-A is a Southern-based business that launched its business in the South at a time when many business leaders were opposing integration.
This company has been proactive in affording opportunity to people of all different backgrounds, particularly racial backgrounds at a time when that was not a popular thing to do, and has afforded economic opportunity for people from a lot of different backgrounds at a time when many other companies have not. And I wonder if you feel that that deserves any consideration.
KENNEY: I think promoting people and allowing people to experience the best they can in their life is a wonderful thing. Why is it that it seems like the last group of people in this country it's OK to discriminate against are gay men and women?
I think that they're Americans as much as I am and deserve to have every aspect of their civil rights and civil liberties to experience without anyone trying to restrain that. That's my only point.
MARTIN: But I guess I'm asking you to address my point, which is, is the employment opportunity that this company has offered to people from a lot of different backgrounds, people whose educational experiences may not be as great as others, does that deserve any weight in this controversy?
KENNEY: No. I don't believe - I mean, I think that if you do good, you do good. That's wonderful. I mean, I applaud that. But I don't see why you have to do good on one hand and do hate speech on the other.
MARTIN: James Kenney...
KENNEY: Just my opinion. Look...
MARTIN: Go ahead.
KENNEY: I'm entitled to my opinion, too. I mean, I've been - I got a Tweet from a hashtag called #JesustheSavior who hoped that the forefathers would come back from their graves, put a bullet into my head and shoot me dead.
MARTIN: Oh, my goodness.
KENNEY: Now, that's the kind of folks that you're motivating to respond to my belief or my position. I think there's something seriously, dangerously wrong about that.
MARTIN: Hmm. That's terrible.
KENNEY: It is terrible. And I tell you what - I've gotten other tweets and text messages I can't read over National Public Radio that are worse than that one, believe it or not.
MARTIN: Hmm. James Kenney is a city councilman-at-large in Philadelphia, and he joined us from there today. Councilman Kenney, thank you so much for speaking with us.
KENNEY: Thank you. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.