Chick-fil-A is no longer just a quality fast food chain. It now aggressively offers a moral menu and diet to Americans. Dan Cathy, the company's CEO, has taken the Supreme Court's ruling that corporations are people to an audacious new high -- or low, depending on your view about same-gender marriage. The resulting after-taste is not why we patronize it.
Few Americans would deny Mr. Cathy's First Amendment right to free speech. He is certainly personally free to hold and espouse views about what he calls the biblical view of marriage. But here's the rub -- he was espousing his conservative religious views as CEO of a company whose corporate foundation has made donations to anti-gay organizations.
The moral arc of the universe bends toward inclusion and the history of the U.S. reaffirms that trajectory on a host of issues from slavery to the women's suffrage movement to civil rights, gender equality and now LGBT rights, including the freedom to marry. In each instance the full inclusion of those previously thought to be beyond full participation in the privileges of our democracy has not undermined our civic life but enriched it.
The religious convictions of those who stood firmly against each of these movements toward full inclusion did not hold the nation hostage from taking legislative action to guarantee the rights and protections of each citizen previously denied them.
This is where Mr. Cathy has crossed a line that has resulted in angry protests from civil rights organizations, the LGBT community and elected officials in several major cities who have pulled up the welcome mat to Chick-fil-A.
In his public pronouncements he has aligned himself and his company with the fringe views of Fred Phelps and his "God Hates Fags" agenda by suggesting that the freedom to marry movement invites God's judgment on the nation. To be supportive of same-gender marriage is unpatriotic in his view.
The American public, in its seismic shifts in support for LGBT rights and the legal privileges and protections of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, would be stunned to learn that their evolving views are unpatriotic. To hold and respect differing views is a marker of a civil society.
The biblical definition of marriage that Mr. Cathy promotes ignores the biblical ho-hum attitude toward the revered figures of Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon having multiple wives. In the Book of Samuel, God was of the view that if David's wives and concubines were insufficient in number he would give him more! But no one embracing this biblical view of marriage that existed in a specific culture, place and time could compare to Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. The evolving biblical view of marriage appears to have been missed by Mr. Cathy. It is a dangerous exercise to claim religious authority for how a country deals with evolving views on any number of issues about the arrangement of human relationships.
Americans are anxious about the stories we hear from the countries of the Middle East. Many wonder if the so-called "Arab Spring" makes it possible for a bleaker Arab Winter to emerge in which the views of conservative Islamists debase Muslim values by claiming that the Koran justifies enshrining a lesser status in society to women, Christians, Jews and others. Most of us do not want the businesses whose products we enjoy to be drawing on supposed religious justifications for exclusion and division in the United States.
The strongly held religious views of American corporate leaders are well known but rarely do they cross the line that Dan Cathy has. Diane Brady writes in Bloomberg BusinessWeek about an illuminating conversation with Bill Marriott who's deeply held Mormon faith in running the Mormon-controlled Marriott Corporation are well known. When his church led the opposition to same-gender marriage in California he abstained from supporting their position. He chose, she writes, to instead publicly highlight the corporation's policies on domestic partner benefits and their targeting of LGBT customers.
Is it possible that with Bill Marriott's tutelage and wisdom Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A will arrive at an American accommodation between personal religious views and corporate policies, practices and profits? Would Cathy and his team engage with those of us who are LGBT and be open to discovering that our very ordinary relationships, love and lives are quite similar to those that cause the pride he takes in his marriage?
If Chick-fil-A emerged from such a process with new anti-discriminatory policies it would be cause for celebrating an all-American Chick-fil-A Day. Many of us would celebrate it because we have each confronted our fears and had our views and positions evolve.
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