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Christina Pesoli

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Chick-fil-huh? Trying to Make Sense of Dan Cathy's Bird-brained Business Decision

Posted: 07/24/2012 2:29 pm

It's not news that fast-food chain Chick-fil-A is known for its down-home "Christian" values. In fact, all that fundamentalist flavoring is rumored to be the secret ingredient that gives Chick-fil-A chicken its Bible-icious bite.

So, it doesn't exactly come as a surprise that the family that owns the fast food restaurant chain is anti-gay. After all, fundamentalist "Christians" and gay rights don't exactly go together like Hooters and hot wings.

But all of that notwithstanding, I was nonetheless surprised when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy went on the record recently about his anti-gay views.

Based on appearances, this is a company that knows what it's doing business-wise. It has over 1600 "restaurants" nationwide, and the company generally seems to be doing well. But publicly taking a controversial position on the biggest civil rights issue of our time doesn't exactly seem like a smart business move.

If Cathy had made a statement about opposing PETA, it might have constituted a risk from a company-messaging standpoint, but it at least would have been possible to connect the dots between his business and the issue.

But what does marriage equality have to do with fried chicken sandwiches?

In one sense, I guess I'm glad -- not about the hate, but that Cathy is so out and proud about it. "Guilty as charged," Cathy proudly stated when asked about his anti-gay views in an interview with the Baptist Press.

I am the type that likes to vote with my wallet -- meaning that I try to avoid shopping at businesses that have policies or positions that I find offensive. When companies make their offensive views obvious, it makes it that much easier to know which businesses to avoid. Walmart is a good example. And thanks to Cathy's comments last week, now Chick-fil-A is, too.

While this might sound a little on the self-righteous side, the truth is sticking to my principles this way usually doesn't involve much sacrifice. It just so happens that most businesses that have policies I find offensive don't sell things I want to buy anyway.

Such is the case with Chick-fil-A. Because I am a vegetarian, I have never actually eaten at Chick-fil-A. But I did used to hit their drive-through to get an iced tea now and then. But a year or two ago when I got wind of the intolerant views espoused by the chain's ownership I started going to Schlotzky's instead.

Sure, it's a little out of the way but I really didn't have a choice. It wasn't so much that I thought losing my $1.20 every few days would put the hurt on Chick-fil-A. It was more that I didn't want anyone to see my car in the Chick-fil-A drive-through or catch me walking around carrying a Chick-fil-A cup and make assumptions about either my politics or my palate.

Putting aside the bigger issue of right and wrong, I still can't understand Cathy's actions. I know that just as there are consumers like me who will avoid Chick-fil-A as a result of the brand's association with intolerant views, there are also plenty of fundamentalist "Christians" who will now double down and go twice as often.

But poll after poll shows that with each passing day the number of Americans who support marriage equality grows. And just a few months ago a poll confirmed that more Americans now support marriage equality than oppose it.

In a few scant years -- if it even takes that long -- history will judge those who sought to deny basic civil rights to people who are gay just as harshly as it does those who sought to deny basic civil rights to members of other minority groups in the past. Hate like that leaves a nasty aftertaste that can last for decades.

Whether for moral reasons, business reasons, or both, brands that are mainstream to the point of being pedestrian -- like Oreo and JC Penney, for example -- are making public statements in support of equality.

But Chick-fil-A is not just refusing to be progressive and adopt an inclusive position on the issue; nor is it content to play it safe by simply keeping mum on the topic. Chick-fil-A is stretching its neck out in the other direction -- all the way across the chopping block. And in doing so it has secured its position as the Cracker Barrel of fast-food chicken restaurants, proudly serving up hate and bigotry along with its uninspired food.

Congratulations, Chick-fil-A! When it comes to the intolerance-and-bad-business combo, you really rule the roost!

 

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