The controversy surrounding fast-food chain Chick-fil-A and its chief executive's statements against gay marriage boiled over Wednesday in a froth of activism, commerce, and free-speech arguments. After CEO Dan Cathy told Baptist Press on July 16 that his company is "very much supportive of... the biblical definition of the family unit," a backlash kicked in. Gay activists urged boycotts and same-sex "kiss-ins" at Chick-fil-A restaurants, and officials in several cities warned the company to keep its distance. Hitting back, conservative Mike Huckabee urged "traditional marriage" backers to swamp the chicken joints on Aug. 1 — which he dubbed national "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" — and they did. So who's winning and losing in this grudge match over gay marriage? Here, a brief guide:
Wednesday appears to have been a huge financial success for the chicken purveyor. Local news stories around the nation reported long lines for chicken sandwiches, and anti-gay-marriage preacher Rick Warren tweeted midday: "@DanCathy just called me. #ChickFilA has already set a world record today, with 7 more hrs to go in the West." We conservatives may be very bad at boycotts, says William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, but we "are very good at buycotts." Yes, with numbers like these, I'm sure "somewhere, a Burger King ad man's toying with the idea of having 'The King' declare himself '100% pro-life,'" says Allahpundit at Hot Air.
The success of "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" is a huge win for the former Arkansas governor, who dreamed up the event and used Facebook to persuade 660,000 people to participate. Impressive, says Barbara Reynolds at The Washington Post. "Huckabee has turned the table on the chain's critics, calling them bigots" for trying to quash free speech, and persuading a huge number of Americans to join his cause.
Aug. 1 may have been a banner day for Chick-fil-A, but after two weeks of protests and high-profile saber rattling from pro-gay mayors and celebrities, "the damage had been done," says Steve Cody at Inc. And, in the larger scheme of things, says Michelangelo Signorile at The Huffington Post, gay-rights activists are winning the battle over corporate support, with global giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Kraft "pushing for LGBT rights across the entire planet." If a "pipsqueak" like Chick-fil-A, "whose outlets are predominantly centered in red state America" is "the most high profile company the anti-gays have pushing their agenda, I can see where things are headed."
Despite the record sales and free publicity, "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day isn't getting much love from Chick-fil-A" itself, says Elizabeth Flock at U.S. News. From the company's silent Twitter feed to its public disavowal of any involvement in Huckabee's protest, Chick-fil-A seems to understand that long after this controversy dies down, many potential customers will still have a bad taste in their mouths. There's a lesson for every business leader in Cathy's shoes, says Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times: "It's best to let your products speak for themselves and keep your big mouth shut."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and various other Democratic leaders suggested that they would keep Chick-fil-A from expanding in their bailiwicks, with Emanuel saying that "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values." But "it seems that someone with some knowledge of the Constitution has since spoken with" them, because they've all scaled back their statements, says Kashmir Hill at Forbes. Mayors have no right to block businesses based on political or religious beliefs. "Eat mor Constitution, guys."
The Berenstain Bears
The fictional bear family created by the late Stan and Jan Berenstain are perhaps the most surprising victims of the crossfire. After the Jim Henson Co. cut all ties with Chick-fil-A over the company's gay marriage stance last week — and Chick-fil-A pulled the Muppet finger puppets from its kids' meals, citing "potential safety concerns" — the chicken chain started giving out Berenstain Bears books instead. Although some of the books are Christian-themed, "the Berenstain family doesn't appear thrilled to be associated with Chick-fil-A either," says Isolde Raftery at NBC News. This promotion has been in the works for more than a year, the Berenstains said in a statement, and "the Berenstain family does not at this time have control over whether this program proceeds or not."