Chick-fil-A: Empty Calorie Diversion From Equality

Enough about Chick-fil-A already. Yes, what Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said about gay marriage "shaking a fist at God" was offensive, especially for gay people of faith. And yes, the parodies and memes were funny, the first dozen times around. With politicians and media seemingly on their side, some gay people feel like they have Chick-fil-A on the butcher's block, and now's the time to drop the cleaver. While the anti-Chick-fil-A crusade may score political points in the liberal enclaves of Boston and Chicago, where Democrat mayors are seeking to cast the restaurant chain into exile, in America's heartland it is costing us hard-earned support among conservatives, moderates and independents. Municipal bans on private business also raise serious constitutional concerns.

Go ahead and take Chick-fil-A off your menu. Tell your friends why the waffle fries aren't worth it, and spend your snack money on some gay-friendly Starbucks or Oreos instead. America has a long and proud tradition of voting with our feet and voting with our wallets. But there's a point at which a boycott jumps the shark, and when agents of government are discriminating against a business on the basis of political belief, the line's been crossed. At this point, the Chick-fil-A haters have lost sight of what we're really fighting for.

Turning a chicken sandwich into Public Gay Enemy Number One makes LGBT people look superficial, vindictive and juvenile -- everything that we as a community have worked hard to overcome. Remember, employers don't want drama queens on the payroll, military service is serious business, and marriage is not a right society grants to spoiled children. While in a perfect world our equality should not depend on our good behavior, in a world where our rights too often hinge on political reality, the way our movement conducts itself matters.

The "movable middle" moves both ways, and they don't like seeing people attacked relentlessly for their religion. Whatever the nuances, these voters see a man standing up for his beliefs against a politically powerful mob dead-set on driving him out of business. It's un-American, and when fellow conservatives are finally standing up and speaking out for marriage equality as consistent with the sober values of responsibility and commitment, splashing a popular American company with metaphorical chicken blood in protest is nothing less than friendly fire.

Even if marriage equality activists "won" and Chick-fil-A went out of business tomorrow, what would be gained? True, some businesses may hesitate to donate to antigay causes in the future, but LGBT people would have handed antigay organizations a weapon better than money can buy -- confirmation that gay people really are the thought police, willing and able to use the power of the state to impose our will on oppressed social conservatives. Instead of standing for an outdated and dying discrimination, Chick-fil-A would become a martyr for religious freedom.

In a free society there is room for disagreement on marriage, as there is room for disagreement on war, health care and taxes. Remember, this is about fried chicken, not cross burnings. After DOMA is repealed and civil marriage equality is the law of the land, there will still be people who believe that a marriage between two men is no marriage at all. While it may hurt some feelings that not everybody will want to dance at our weddings, freedom will still mean freedom for everyone -- even Dan Cathy. But in order to get to that day, LGBT Americans should take a lesson from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."

Regarding fundamental disagreements on deeply personal issues, Thomas Jefferson said, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." As to using government authority to silence these disagreements, "Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error."

When we are recruiting the Muppets and our greatest enemy's battle cry is "Eat Mor Chikin," we can be assured that "reason" has left the building. The lunch break is over. It's time to get back to work, folks.