August was a busy month at Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta, especially when it came to the topic of gay marriage.
On Wednesday, a Chicago alderman had dropped his objections to the first standalone Chick-fil-A restaurant in his city, after the fast-food franchise persuaded him that it had withdrawn from the political battle over same-sex marriage.
Several weeks of negotiations with Chick-fil-A executives had produced internal company guidelines that prohibit discrimination in hiring and customer service. Alderman Joe Moreno also said that, in August, executives of the family-held firm also opened the books of Chick-fil-A’s charitable foundation, to prove that it no longer gave money to groups opposing same-sex unions.
Less known is the fact that, at the same time, Chick-fil-A was also holding talks with Campus Pride, a gay rights organization based in Charlotte, N.C., that had targeted the several hundred Chick-fil-A outlets on college campuses with an “education” campaign.
College students eat a lot of chicken sandwiches.
Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, paid his most recent visit to Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta last Monday, after which he announced the suspension of his group’s campaign. Windmeyer said he, too, was given a chance to preview Chick-fil-A’s new hiring and service policy. He, too, was offered evidence that the company’s WinShape Foundation no longer gives money to groups considered hostile to gay rights.
“Chick-fil-A has treated myself and my organization with dignity and respect. They really have been willing to sit down and dialogue. It hasn’t been an adversarial relationship,” Windmeyer said.
Those are words that Chick-fil-A is no doubt eager to have bronzed. But more important is the fact that Windmeyer said Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy was personally involved in the negotiations, in both face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations.
A spokesman for Moreno said Friday that the alderman spoke by phone with Cathy.
It was Cathy, of course, who caused a stir this summer with comments declaring his support for traditional marriage between a man and a woman. “Well, guilty as charged,” Cathy told Baptist Press in July.
Gay rights activists and their allies immediately began organizing a shunning of the firm. Religious conservatives rallied to its side. Business analysts posited that the hoopla wouldn’t damage the largely Southern firm in the short term – though it could limit expansion opportunities in more liberal regions of the nation.
But clearly Chick-fil-A took the gay marriage threat seriously and began immediate efforts to defuse the situation.
Skeptics remain. Gay rights groups point out that even as his company was making nice last week, Cathy personally Tweeted a photo that showed him participating in a motorcycle ride to benefit a group called the Marriage and Family Foundation – a group that lobbies against gay marriage, and which once received funding from the company’s WinShape Foundation.
One presumes that Chick-fil-A will attempt to draw a line between Cathy family giving and its corporate largesse. How that sells is a matter for the future.
“We chose to suspend our campaign, not to end our campaign,” Windmeyer said. “Sometimes you have to be willing to put down the stick in order to listen to somebody.”
Two more aspects are worth noting about Chick-fil-A’s wrestling match over gay marriage.
That episode in Chicago, for instance, was brought about by an alderman’s veto power over a rezoning required for what will be Chick-fil-A’s first standalone restaurant in the city.
The alderman had that power because Chick-fil-A, an Atlanta firm, sought to subdivide and purchase a lot in the city currently owned by Home Depot, another Atlanta company.
The irony: Yes, Chick-fil-A has been the target of a two-month boycott spurred by its opposition to same-sex unions. But Home Depot has endured a much longer, though low-grade boycott by the American Family Association, a conservative group upset by the DIY company’s support for gay rights, including its steadfast participation in Atlanta’s annual gay pride parade.
Then there’s the matter of timing. In August, at the same time Chick-fil-A was negotiating its way out of the gay marriage debate, Republicans in Tampa were attempting the same maneuver.
Opposition to gay marriage was written into the platform adopted by the Republican National Convention. But that position never received a mention during three days of televised speeches. Like Chick-fil-A, Republicans decided to bow out of the dispute – at least while a general audience was watching.
Jamie Ensley, president of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, said he took solace from the omission. “Keeping it out of prime-time TV was the right thing to do,” he said.
Like Chick-fil-A, Republicans will soon have to choose between short-term politics and long-term expansion plans, he said. “It may take a couple of national elections to convince everyone,” Ensley said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider