Chick-fil-A is not the Westboro Baptist Church
posted at 11:47 am on August 2, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
In the spring of 2000, Vermont was embroiled in the debate over same-sex marriage— specifically, how to respond to a marriage inequality ruling that had been handed down by the state’s supreme court the prior December.
During the passionate debates taking place across the state—on its airwaves, in its churches and community halls, and in its legislature—a news article appeared about a gay pastor in the Northeast Kingdom whose car had been set on fire in an alleged act of gay-hatred. This despicable crime certainly seemed to illustrate same-sex union supporters’ point that opposition to gay unions was rooted in visceral bigotry.
The Northeast Kingdom, by the way, is made up of several counties in the northeast corner of the state, where the famous joke about Vermont weather isn’t that far from the truth (it goes: there are two seasons in Vermont—winter….and the Fourth of July). It’s rural and poor, just the kind of place one could imagine stereotypical hayseed bigots living (note—“imagine” is the key word in that sentence; I’m not suggesting this is true).
The Vermont debate over same-sex unions continued, leading to passage of a civil unions bill—HB.847—on April 25 that was signed into law by Governor Howard Dean on April 26, 2000.
Nearly two months later, a news article appeared revealing that the gay pastor whose car had been destroyed in the April arson had confessed to setting the blaze himself. He “wanted to be perceived as the victim he felt himself to be, he told police, so he set his 1999 Honda Accord on fire. He intended to inflict minor damage to the driver’s seat. The car was destroyed.”—So says a Burlington Free Press article on the topic. It was a sad story of a desperate man who’d apparently felt the lash of hurtful acts and comments in the past due to his sexual orientation.
I was reminded of this story, however, during the recent kerfuffle over comments made by Chick-fil-A’s president about his support for traditional marriage and opposition to gay marriage (and even divorce, if you parse his words carefully). He originally said:
We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.
This led to a flurry of outrage and umbrage, summed up here in a Huffington Post piece by Warren J. Blumenfeld:
In light of Chick-fil-A’s statements and connections to organizations opposing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, college and university students throughout the country have organized boycotts and petition drives to terminate their schools’ relationship with Chick-fil-A. In addition, mayors in a number of cities, including Boston’s Thomas M. Menino, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and San Francisco’s Ed Lee, are discouraging Chick-fil-A from opening new branches in their cities, at least until they pledge to sign non-discrimination statements in the areas of hiring and public accommodations in keeping with their cities’ policies.
There’s been backlash, too, to the views espoused by the Chick-fil-A haters—resulting in a Chick-fil-A “appreciation day” that apparently created long lines at most of the restaurants’ counters, and even the ACLU, which supports same-sex marriage, coming to the restaurant’s defense.
After a while, it almost felt like an Olympic sport. Let’s review the action, then, in this “haters vs. haters” event:
- Same sex marriage hater runs Chick-fil-A!
- Same sex marriage hater haters hate Chick-fil-A!
- Same sex marriage hater haters hate hating Chick-fil-A!
- And the medal goes to…!
I realize that’s a wild (and somewhat unfair) oversimplification of the debate, but the broader point is that the same-sex marriage discussion has often devolved into supporters painting opponents as “haters,” just as that pitiable Vermont pastor wished to do with his desperate act of arson.
This tactic baffles me because support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown, with recent polls showing majority support for such unions (count me among those whose opinion has shifted to support). With public opinion swinging in their favor, why do some same-sex marriage proponents cling to the hate argument? Why do they insist in treating all their opponents as if they were members of the ghastly Westboro Baptist Church?
Back in 2004, I penned a piece about George W. Bush winning over the “I don’t know” crowd in a presidential debate when CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked the candidates some questions about homosexuality. President Bush honestly responded to a question on whether homosexuality was a matter of nature or nurture by replying, “I don’t know.”
Those three words probably went a long way to winning over a lot of Americans who felt the same way, who didn’t see themselves as haters or bigots or even moral absolutists, but, rather, as people who wondered if overthrowing centuries of traditional marriage was a wise course of action.
As someone with strong opinions, I’ve often joked that “outrage is my favorite emotion.” So I can understand the left’s embrace of outrage when one of their issues is in the news. At some point, however, they need to realize that outrage is getting in the way, and that loving your policy enough to advance it is more important than hating its opponents.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. You can reach her through comments below or at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com.