"This is about my right to free speech," cried one of my Facebook friends as she declared her support for Chick-Fil-A and her intention to go miles out of her way to pick up a Chick-Fil-A Deluxe Chicken Sandwich. Her sentiments were echoed by tens of thousands who lined up around the block at Chick-Fil-A's everywhere to show their "appreciation" to it's owner and president, Dan T. Cathy, for expressing his opposition to same sex marriage. The revelers showed up in droves, cheering and enthusiastic, citing free speech and support for the rights of business to set their own policy, even if it's perceived as politically incorrect in the mainstream. The numbers who showed up were surprising.
"It's a ruse," read one post. "This isn't about free speech. It's about hate speech." Cathy, who has famously called supporters of same-sex marriage "twisted" and "deprived" has, obviously, tapped into something.
In the summer of 1992, Pat Buchanan gave his now famous "Cultural War" speech. In it he said, "There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself. For this war is for the soul of America." His speech established an "us" versus "them" premise whose flames have only been fanned in the years since (most effectively by Karl Rove).
The tone and clarity of Buchanan's words were simple and powerful, fostering an imagery that stayed with us through the early 21st Century. The Iraq war brought, "You're with us or you're against us," making Americans "unAmerican" if they questioned the war. The election of Barack Obama brought an unending stream of allegations about religion and birth certificate all meant to disguise the real truth, Barack Obama represents the "wrong" side in the cultural war.
And then, on May 9th 2012, President Obama made an announcement that may have been the tipping point in the "war" for "the soul of America." He announced his personal support for same-sex marriage. It was a politically risky thing to do that positioned him as the point person in the cultural struggle.
According to a poll released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the president's announcement has changed public opinion on the issue of gay marriage. Democrats and Liberals who were more ambivalent on the issue have swung in favor of the issue, moving from 59 to 65% approval and 73 to 83% approval, respectively. Republicans, however, have scarcely moved, notching up from 23 to 24% in the months since the president's announcement.
In the interim, we've learned that certain noteworthy figures, like CNN's Anderson Cooper and Astronaut Sally Ride, both identified as gay. Sherman Helmsley and Gore Vidal joined the choir of posthumous notables who lived lives sometimes closeted, sometimes not. All the while, cries of, "who cares?" and, "what's the big deal?" filled the proverbial "town square" that we now call social media. On this issue, you'd almost think the world of Democrats and Liberals in New York and LA really represents America. It doesn't.
Something has been simmering. Something the Tea Party represents. Something Sarah Palin has represented. Something that has previously kept media companies afraid of advertisers and people like Anderson Cooper and Sally Ride from being more forthcoming with their sexual orientation. People do care. It is a big deal and when someone like Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy stands up and says it, one by one people start to cheer. (You might wonder how many other companies and company owners/advertisers feel the same way.)
Cathy's statement and the overwhelming support for Chick-Fil-A are not about free speech, or they would have cheered for Anderson. It was not an expression of the rights of businesses, or they would not have boycotted JC Penny for hiring Ellen DeGeneres and Disney for offering domestic partner benefits.
The people who cheer and revel as they wait in line at Chick-Fil-A and those who supported those boycotts are most likely the same ones who heard their fears resonated in Pat Buchanan's words 20 years ago. "The America I know, want and believe in is slipping away... and it's their fault." It's the "us's" versus the "them's."
When President Obama announced his support for same sex marriage, we crossed a cultural tipping point, and for many in the media (in that New York/LA lexicon that seeks to define who we are) this became a near settled issue. But the President's announcement and the statement of Chick-Fil-A policy, as stated by Dan T. Cathy, have crystallized a deep resentment harbored by many in America who sense their America has been hijacked. They feel the "liberals" and the "elites" are forcing a culture and a life style down their throats that they don't want and that many of them consider to be wrong, immoral and ungodly. So, when Cathy stands up and calls gays "twisted" and "deprived" along with citing his company's support for "the biblical definition of the family unit," many shout, "Yes!" And, on Wednesday, they did just that at Chick-Fil-A's everywhere.
The problem with their position, however, is that it supposes the Bible only has one definition of marriage (it has several), and it supposes that sexual orientation is a choice made by "twisted" or "deprived" people. It's the same old argument that only disappears over time as more and more people stand up and more and more opponents have to deal with this issue among their friends and in their families.
What Buchanan cited as a "cultural war" is actually a social and psychological shift in culture and law, not unlike those in the past that transformed America in the 1850's and 60's, again through women's suffrage in the years leading up to 1920 and in the civil rights and women's movements of the 1950's, 60's and 70's. In each case the push back was significant, but at some point a tipping point established the inevitability of the movement.
Regardless of how many may have gone out of their way to hit the drive thru at Chick-Fil-A in support a position that in 40 years will look like the dark ages, the good news is, Anderson's out, the president supports same-sex marriage and there are far too many of us standing up to ever be put down again.
Would you like a side with that sandwich?