In May, much ink was spilled when President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced to the world that they now supported gay marriage. Was this an attempt to raise more money from Hollywood liberals? An effort to rally the Democratic base? An act of pure conviction?
Perhaps there was a simpler explanation: Obama and Biden want to operate a fast food chain when they leave office. For we have learned in recent weeks that restaurateurs who hold their previous views are not welcome in major cities.
At least two big-city mayors publicly refused to roll out the red carpet for Chick-fil-A because the company’s president agreed with Obama’s position on same-sex marriage from four months ago. As an evangelical Christian, Dan Cathy’s description of his views—invoking God’s judgment and the biblical definition of the family—might have been more colorful, but that’s the way the chicken sandwich crumbles.
This earned Cathy a rebuke from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. “There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it,” he wrote in a stern letter. Menino pledged to do everything in his power to block a proposed Chick-fil-A restaurant in the city.
Cathy’s preferred definition of marriage was the law in Massachusetts as recently as 2004. This only changed because of a state supreme court decision. Supporters of that ruling worked very hard to prevent Bay State voters from ever having the chance to express whether they agreed with Cathy or the supremes. Menino happily endorsed Obama and Biden in 2008, when they nominally opposed gay marriage.
When a Chicago alderman threatened to block a proposed Chick-fil-A in his district, Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed. “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values,” said Emanuel, a successor to the Daley machine. Indeed, they don’t serve ballot box stuffing at Chick-fil-A.
Cathy’s views on marriage remain the law in Illinois. The state sent Obama to the U.S. Senate as an opponent of same-sex marriage. Rahm Emanuel worked for Bill Clinton when he signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. He was White House chief of staff while Obama still opposed gay marriage.
As head of the House Democrats’ congressional campaign committee, Emanuel actively recruited opponents of gay marriage and abortion to run in socially conservative districts. In Rahm’s world, a belief that marriage is between a man and woman should be no barrier to running the country, but it is a disqualifier for those serving sweet tea.
Both Menino and Emanuel walked back their initial comments. Menino admitted he had no legal power to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston and was just expressing his personal opinion. “I make mistakes all the time,” he told the Boston Herald. An Emanuel spokeswoman denied the mayor would try to stop Chick-fil-A from opening another restaurant in Chicago.
“He did not say that he would block or play any role in the company opening a new restaurant here,” the spokeswoman told Fox News. “If they meet all the usual requirements, then they can open their restaurant, but their values aren’t reflective of our city.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and progressive civil libertarians like the writer Glenn Greenwald also criticized the mayors’ bluster. “Blocking construction of Chick-fil-a restaurants over Cathy’s views is a violation of Cathy’s First Amendment rights,” Adam Serwer wrote in Mother Jones, likening it to the conservative campaign to block the Ground Zero mosque.
It’s also an overreach by gay-marriage supporters. The cultural and political momentum is already on their side. Even younger evangelicals are increasingly uninterested in the gay-rights battles waged by their parents. But a big part of same-sex marriage’s appeal is tolerance, the idea that peaceful adults should live and let live. The Chick-fil-A flap makes it seem to be driven by coercion more than individual freedom.
Also, there is no better way to get those young evangelicals reenlisted in the culture wars than to make same-sex marriage a threat to their religious liberty. What some people are saying is that if you believe in traditional interpretations of the Bible concerning marriage, you cannot open a business. Consider the backlash the Obama administration faced over the HHS contraception mandate. Opposition to same-sex marriage is still far more widespread than opposition to contraceptives.
Supporters of gay marriage have every right not to patronize a business that gives money to their political opponents, as well as to voice their disagreement with Chick-fil-A’s president. But allowing politicians to make thuggish threats against business owners with whom they disagree is worse than letting a fox guard the hen house.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator and a contributing editor of The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.