Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Chick-fil-A and Tolerance

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you have heard the latest report from the front lines of the culture war regarding gay rights. I am of course referring to the business with the good people at Chick-fil-A and their controversial (but not at all surprising) comments on the issue of marriage equality. I won't bother repeating the whole story for you, as the relevant parts will be summed up naturally anyway, and like I said I am sure you have heard plenty already. What I do want to do is give my thoughts on the matter, as I think the perspective I provide is not the perspective one is likely to encounter in most of the public dialogue on the issue.

First of all, I want to point out that I myself am a strong supporter of gay marriage. To me, the fact that we are still debating about it is astounding. Even when I was a fundamentalist Christian (I am now an agnostic) and believed that homosexuality was a sin, I did not oppose the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. I just did not see why the government should impose upon other people my particular religious beliefs. And this is a religious question. It is perhaps the only American civil rights issue that I have heard discussed in my lifetime in which one side takes the position they do for purely religious reasons. Yes, I am aware that other reasons are sometimes offered (like the argument about how children are healthier in a household containing two heterosexual parents. Are we supposed to outlaw divorce now, too?), but I consider them to be nothing more than a smokescreen, a desperate attempt to gain some credulity among those who do not care what a particular religion says about the issue. Even those who skip the smokescreen and argue from a purely religious angle cannot seem to explain what exactly they dislike about gay marriage in such a way that the rest of us will consider valid. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing about homosexuals getting married that has any impact whatsoever on traditional marriage. None. If I am missing something here, please enlighten me.

Now it should be perfectly clear where I stand in this whole debate. I do not support Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-A)'s stance as a supporter of the "traditional family." That being the case, I also want it to be perfectly clear that I find the response to Mr. Cathy's statements by many on my side of the debate to be absolutely appalling. It is one thing to refuse to give the company business because you disagree with them. That is your right. But that is not all we are getting here. There are those who are taking things a step further -  a step way too far.

Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, a strong supporter of gay rights, has declared that Chick-fil-A restaurants are no longer welcome in the city. He wants to deny them any possibility of a business licence. This is not because of any illegal or immoral activity on the part of the company. They have not actively discriminated against anyone as far as we know. All they did was state their official position on a political question. In other words, they exercised their freedom of speech.

It cannot be overemphasized how inappropriate this is. Nobody has the right to refuse a business licence to a company for simply stating their political opinion and financially supporting those who share that opinion. Imagine what would happen if it were not Chick-fil-A, but was instead a company that supported gay marriage. Imagine if Oreo had been the victim here. There would be millions demanding Menino's arrest (and worse). He would never in a million years get away with it. He would be labeled a criminal, and rightfully so. I say he should be labelled that now. This man is not standing up for tolerance. Menino and those who think like him are promoting a totalitarian rule over the whole of the political arena.

This is hypocrisy, and it cannot be allowed to continue. We who support civil rights for the LGBT community must preach a message of tolerance. The other side never will, but we absolutely have to. This is a battle that we can and will win, but we will not win it by forcing our opponents into submission. I for one refuse to identify with those who attempt to stifle the rights of free speech via this kind of pressure, no matter whose side they are on. 

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