The highly successful Atlanta-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A has been much in the news these days, because president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy (whose father founded the family-owned business) apparently came out in opposition to same-sex marriage. Or did he?
Terry Mattingly of the indispensable GetReligion site, which tracks all sorts of journalistic coverage of religion, first called attention to the manufacturing of a misleading story here. In an interview with a writer for the Baptist Press, Cathy was asked about the company’s “support of the traditional family.” His response was, “Well, guilty as charged.” And he went on to talk about the company’s commitment “to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families,” because many of the individual restaurants are family-run operations, and because the Cathy family and their company believe, as Christians, in family-friendly policies. (Their Christian faith and their desire to support families account for the restaurant chain’s being closed on Sundays, for instance, a decision by which the company forgoes many millions in annual revenue.)
At no point in the Baptist Press article did Dan Cathy say a word about the issue of same-sex marriage. The nearest the piece comes to the subject is when the reporter writes, “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family.” The immediate sequel is the remark of Cathy’s I quoted above. But who are those opponents of the company’s policies? We are never told. Is it fair to surmise the reporter is alluding to advocates of same-sex marriage? Maybe, but it’s far from certain. And Dan Cathy is not, repeat not, on the record in this story as taking any position on that issue.
This did not stop CNN and many other outlets from reporting on the “comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage.” And so a manufactured firestorm began. (It’s reminiscent of the manufactured story about that same-sex “wedding” in New Jersey that I blogged about recently.)
When Terry Mattingly set the record straight about the Baptist Press interview, the next redoubt for the let’s-hate-Chick-fil-A crowd was an interview Dan Cathy gave to radio host Ken Coleman in June, in which he said, “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.’”
But this too was hastily taken to be a commentary by Cathy on the same-sex marriage issue, which he never actually mentioned at all. The interview can be heard online here. The date was the day before Father’s Day, and Coleman asked him (start at about the 29:20 mark) about the crisis of fatherlessness in American society. The question takes 30 or 40 seconds to unspool, and then Cathy answers for upwards of a minute and a half. At about the 31:15 mark he gets to the words quoted above. But his entire answer to Coleman’s question has been about the importance of moms and dads in the lives of kids, and especially the role of fathers (given that it’s Father’s Day weekend). It’s clear that Cathy has just been talking about people getting married and staying married, so that children have mothers and fathers and intact families. This is the context for his remark about “God’s judgment” being invited–namely, if we try to treat marriage as optional, or temporary, or a matter of little importance in the upbringing of children. Again, Cathy says nothing, repeat nothing, directly addressing the subject of same-sex marriage.
Given what he does say, and as the sort of Christian he presents himself as being, is it a fair guess that Dan Cathy is opposed to same-sex marriage? Yes, it’s a fair guess, and it may even be true. But while this is plainly a man who has committed his business to being family-friendly and faith-friendly, he has not committed his company, or himself as a high-profile businessman, to being against anything or anyone. He has not sent any “dog whistle” signals to anyone, much less adopted a policy of serving a sermon with every chicken sandwich. The entire kerfuffle over “anti-gay” Chick-fil-A is manufactured from whole cloth by liberal journalists who heard what they wanted to hear. (Perhaps they themselves are dogs hearing nonexistent whistles.)
If Dan Cathy is, as a matter of his own beliefs and moral convictions, opposed to same-sex marriage, the last time I checked it was still permitted to be an American and hold such views–even to be a successful businessman! His company’s policy, meanwhile, is to serve chicken sandwiches to anyone who wants one–except on Sundays. And it’s his company’s policy to support, through various corporate programs, the strength of its employees’ families. That’s all there is to what he actually had to say in either of the interviews that have gotten so much attention.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Boston, incensed over the assumed affront to all right-thinking people committed by Dan Cathy, has decided to pull out all the stops to prevent the people of Beantown from having a good chicken sandwich, courtesy of Chick-fil-A. At this point, the circus furiosus has reached its naturally absurd conclusion, with a pandering politico scampering to take advantage of the left’s misinformed hatreds.