Thursday, July 26, 2012

Do you want discrimination with that?

This week, there’s been a big hullaballoo over the revelation that Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, opposes same-sex marriage, and his foundation has donated about $3 million to anti-gay groups. Mayor Tom Menino of Boston sent a letter to Cathy that urges him to back out of his plans to open a new Chick-fil-A location in Boston. Menino writes, “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.” Politicians in Chicago have made similar statements, while some religious conservative politicians have sadly named next Wednesday as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” While I am a big supporter of marriage equality, this letter does bring up some conflicting feelings.

My first reaction when I read the letter was that I wanted to give Mayor Mumbles a big ol’ hug. He is taking a stand against hate. The LGTBQ community needs leaders who will stand up for them like this and unabashedly support them. Some politicians might be too nervous that this sort of a stance will be too controversial and threaten their reelection, but Menino had the chutzpah to come out right away and say that, as one of the only states to allow same-sex marriage, we don’t like it when people work to destroy that, and that hatred is unacceptable.

On the other hand, I recognize that by wanting to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a location here, Menino can also be seen as being guilty of discrimination. Is it really the place for our government to get involved with what businesses can open where based on their beliefs? I believe the answer is no. After all, the Constitution defends your right to be a bigoted asshole, and to express those beliefs out loud. I certainly cannot stand Cathy’s use of religion as an excuse for hatred (that’s a whole other discussion for another day), but in the end, the man has a right to his beliefs. If the company were discriminatory towards its employees or customers, then that would be a problem that would make it essential to ban them here. However, that does not seem to be the case. As a result, we cannot get on this slippery slope of banning companies based on their beliefs and who they donate money to, for letting the government tell people what they can and cannot believe in is a dangerous thing. I will point out though that Menino’s letter wisely did not say that he would take action against banning the company from Boston, only that it urged the company to back out of its plans and said that this is not the place for them. This is fine, so long as he stays away from thwarting their business plans with anything beyond words.

What we can do instead is, as consumers, make informed choices about who we give our money to. When I recently learned that Oreo had thrown its support behind same-sex marriage, I no longer felt quite so guilty about buying and gorging on those delicious cookies. Similarly, I hope that if Chick-fil-A does open a location in Boston, they will do such poor business that they will soon be forced to close. If people ban together and make a decision not to support a business which uses some of its profits for such hateful causes, that action will send a loud and clear message to other people and businesses who think that discrimination is okay. So while I think that the government should not take legal action to bar them from opening here, I still think that Menino’s letter was important for him to write, and his message is wonderful: Boston is no place for hate. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for saying this loud and clear.

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