Under Pressure, Fast-Food Chain Won’t Support Anti-Gay Marriage Groups

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 31, 2011

Chick-fil-A is popular in the South. The hand-breaded chicken breast on a white-buttered bun is one of those remaining regional brands that natives and foodies alike.

Until recently, that is. The New York Times reports that some Southerners call it "Jesus chicken" because its popularity among churchgoers. Now, it appears the name may have a larger meaning.

Chick-fil-A is one of the only large American companies (Domino Pizza under Tom Monaghan was another) with conservative Christianity an integral part of its corporate culture. That pervasive identity has now landed it in some hot frying oil with liberals, gay activists, secularists, university students and others.

A Pennsylvania outlet sponsored a marriage seminar by the the Pennsylvania Family Institute, the state's major anti-gay marriage force, on "The Art of Marriage" on Feb. 11. Once the news became public, gay blogs lit up with protests which spread across the Internet -- and across the country.

Since then, it has come to light about Chick-fil-A has been using corporate coffers to support other ultra-religiou right and anti-gay marriage groups. Gay blog Good as You did some sleuthing and found the company was the mainstay behind the the WinShape Foundation, which is solely funded by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy's family.

The foundation supports college students who espouse a fundamentalist Christian lifestyle (forget Jews or Muslims; Episcopalians need not apply). Wikipedia states: "WinShape and Chik-fil-A have been criticized for their support of anti-marriage equality activists," such as the Ruth Institute.

After days of trying to ignore the uproar, Chick-fil-A executives finally mounted a defense of sorts. What may have tipped the corporate hand was the announcement that Indiana University's South Bend campus banned Chick-fil-A from the campus. Indiana News Center reported that Campus Ally Network, a pro-gay group, got the ban going.

It's one thing for gay activists not to eat chicken sandwiches. But when college students start boycotting, that's a potential death knell for a fast-food chain. Major coverage in the New York Times undoubtedly also forced its hand.

So Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy took to Facebook to release a statement in which he did little to counter the accusations. He merely restated the Pennsylvania sponsorship. He badly stated the privately held company's "long history of trying to encourage and strengthen marriages and families, both within our Chick-fil-A system and with our customers."

He made his position clear here: "My family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage." But the Cathy surprisingly went to state "We will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family. This decision has been made, and we understand the importance of it.'

This would essentially seem to be a capitulation to the protesters. At least, that's the way it was taken by the predictably outraged posters on FreeRepublic, many of whom said they would boycott the chain. (Of course, these are the same people who have previously boycotted Disney, Pepsi, Home Depot, Ford Motor and a slew of other companies that you didn't know the right had boycotted because no one noticed).

A blogger called Western Youth also decried the "capitulation to the left," although Cathy's statement did reiterate that the company would continue to work for Christian values.

The only difference, as he expressed to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, is "We've opted not to get involved in the political debate. It's never been our agenda." Or if it was, it's not now.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).