It's burned like wildfire across the Internet, prompted an angry mayoral letter, drawn former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum into the fray, inspired a same-sex "kiss-in" and led the Muppets to dump a business deal, all while raising big questions about the balance between free speech and the free market, and between community values and private enterprise.
We are talking, of course, about gay marriage and the fast food chain, Chick-fil-A.
"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,' " said Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. "And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is about."
Cathy said that when it comes to the restaurant's support of the "traditional family," the company is "guilty as charged."
"He means the definition of the family of one man and one woman, certainly," said Biblical Recorder editor K. Allan Blume, who interviewed Cathy recently. "But he was never saying that in a way that was putting down anyone, and all of a sudden he's being called homophobic — which he's not — and hate-monger — which he's not. And that's not the subject. He was simply stating, these are our values, and that's the way we operate."
Chick-fil-A has never shied away from its Christian roots. The company's more than 1,600 restaurants are all closed on Sundays. Cathy said Chick-fil-A's corporate purpose is to "glorify God and be a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us." And the company's philanthropic foundation has supported "traditional" marriage activist groups such as the National Organization for Marriage.
"He actually spoke very strongly to me about a passage of scripture that Jesus talked about, going the second mile — that when someone asks you to do something, don't be embittered about that: Do what they ask, then go the second mile and graciously do more than they ask," Blume said. "He talked about how the Chick-fil-A is a company that tries to incorporate that biblical value into their operation, and telling their staff to do more than is expected."
Blume said he got a sense from him that every day in his life, whether it be business or outside of business, those are the values that drive Cathy.
"I would say he's a man of integrity and great character who lives consistently by biblical values. He's like all of us; I'm sure none of us can claim or would claim perfection," Blume said. "But he certainly has standards that he is intensely committed to live by. You know, the Christian life is not something we just package in our church and leave on Sunday; it's a part of our DNA and who we are. And so we take biblical principles and try to live them out — and I'm sure he does that."
Chick-fil-A's Christian identity isn't exactly news. So why the firestorm this week? Because Chick-fil-A wants to come to Boston — to a spot on the Freedom Trail, no less.
Last week, Mayor Thomas Menino fired off a passionate letter to Cathy, writing: "You called supporters of gay marriage 'prideful.' Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are 'guilty as charged.' "
Menino didn't stop there.
"I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston," he wrote. "When Massachusetts became the first state in the country to recognize equal marriage rights, I personally stood on City Hall Plaza to greet same sex couples. It would be an insult to our city's long history of expanding freedom to have a Chick-Fil-A across the street from that spot."
According to Boston Herald reporter Greg Turner, "if the mayor doesn't want it, it doesn't happen."
In fact, Menino told Turner that, "it would be very difficult for Chick-fil-A to get whatever licenses it needs to come to town."
Meanwhile, the Chick-fil-A controversy was spiraling across the country. Chicago alderman Joe Moreno also said Chick-Fil-A isn't welcome in his city. The Boston Globe editorial page accused Menino of lacking an understanding of the First Amendment. Chick-fil-A temporarily lost control of the surge of traffic across its Facebook page. Huckabee declared Aug. 1 as Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. And the Jim Henson Co. decided to stop providing Muppets toys to Chick-fil-A restaurants, and instead donate proceeds to gay rights groups.
- Dante Ramos, deputy editorial page editor for The Boston Globe
- Joe Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s First Ward
This segment aired on July 26, 2012.