By Austin Gaddis
I don't have to start this column by telling you about the delicious perfection of a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. You already know that. Divine inspiration is truly the only logical explanation for the revolutionary idea of marinating chicken in pickle juice.
I've always admired the chain's consistent expectation for employees to treat customers with the highest respect. There really is no other place today where you receive a smiling "my pleasure" after every single thank you. With Chick-fil-A, it's always been the little things that make the experience worthwhile.
But Dan Cathy, company president, sat down with the Baptist Press last week and was asked about the franchise's strong support of the "traditional family" -- the company donated over $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2010 -- to which Cathy shot back a quick, "guilty as charged."
He elaborated further by saying, "We are very much supportive of the family -- the Biblical definition of the family unit."
He made additional comments on marriage and family during a later radio interview, saying, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."
Cathy's comments quickly prompted an outpouring of both support and outrage, many calling his comments callous, insensitive and unnecessary.
Since the comments, The Jim Henson Company became the first major company to permanently sever ties with Chick-fil-A for the franchise's opposition to same-sex marriage. In addition, the company's CEO instructed that all money received by Chick-fil-A would be donated to GLAAD, a pro-gay rights group.
Many other groups have called for a boycott of the fast-food chain, while others, like Mike Huckabee, have declared a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day to combat recent "vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry" aimed at the company. It seems everyone has an opinion on the makers of the chicken sandwich.
Strangely enough, it seems Cathy's vision for Chick-fil-A's stark and very public opposition to same-sex marriage has only come along recently.
When Cathy was asked about his company's anti-gay stance late last year, he appropriately diffused the charge by saying, "We're not anti-anybody. Our mission is to create raving fans." It's apparent that in such a short time, Cathy has forgotten that mission.
Corporate advocacy is not a new concept. Many companies attempt to influence and support legislation that falls in line with company values and interests. And in some cases, the legislation that the companies support may not necessarily be reflective of the values held by a broad range of consumers.
But with a great deal of attention being placed on social issues this election year, many companies are taking a clear stance on diversity and acceptance in their corporate atmosphere. Google recently launched a new worldwide campaign to legalize and recognize same-sex marriage called "Legalize Love."
Google joins JC Penney, Kraft Foods and Starbucks for having all recently faced criticism and threats of boycotts from far-right groups for their support of equality and acceptance inside and outside the workplace.
But with numerous polls showing Americans becoming significantly more supportive of marriage equality, these boycott attempts and calls for a recant of support gain almost no traction and look increasingly foolish.
While I don't dispute that corporations, like individuals, certainly have a right to freely support any ideology or issue, it seems to be a bad business model to willingly alienate a large faction of consumers.
Chick-fil-A's job should be to make delicious chicken sandwiches, not serve as a surrogate for one of the nation's most divisive issues. In a day where it seems everything is politicized, I'd like to think that my Spicy Deluxe combo and lemonade could offer a shred of normalcy -- not a channel for intolerance.
Cathy's comments haven't stopped me from ever eating at Chick-fil-A again, but I have lost confidence and respect in an organization that claims to be based on following and emulating a loving and accepting God.
Chick-fil-A executives should display the same amount of respect for customers that they expect out of their employees, easily creating raving fans of all backgrounds.
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