When most people demand “tolerance” of others, they really mean they insist that others accept their own positions — and then they’re outraged if positions contrary to their own are actually tolerated.
I keep thinking about that when I read about the gay activists who are leading obsessive boycotts of the fast food chain, Chick-fil-A. For decades, these same gay activists have demanded that everyone show toleration of their sexual orientation. There was a time when gays and lesbians were horribly mistreated by the law. We’re not living in that day, and it’s silly to pretend that we are. (I’ve argued that the state has no business defining marriage and dictating who can marry, so I’m not in a camp that wants to legally define marriage in any particular way.)
Activists are angry with Chick-fil-A because the private company’s owners have given money to Christian groups, some of which have favored efforts to legally define marriage as being between a man and a woman. The activists say this isn’t just a disagreement. No, it’s “hate,” they say. They don’t give any evidence that Chick-fil-A hates anyone. They simply define disagreement with their view as hatred. It’s hard to imagine a more insane twisting of what words really mean.
Politicians pandering to the activists — some of whom are probably genuinely outraged personally by the company’s stance — have started promising to use the power of law to stop Chick-fil-A, all because those politicians disagree with a political stance of a company’s owners. Who exactly are the “intolerant” people these days?
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent an angry letter to Chick-fil-A and has promised to use zoning tricks to stop the company from opening locations in the city. In Chicago, a city alderman is trying to deny Chick-fil-A a business permit to open in his district, and he openly says it’s because of the company owners’ stance on gay marriage. And Thursday morning, it was reported that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also attacking the company and trying to prevent it from opening in the city — all because he disagrees with the political views of company management.
Politicians using the force of law to punish companies which hold sincere political views different from their own are vile. They’re asserting the right to use the power of the state to enforce their own views, which is exactly what they’re complaining about the other side doing. Let’s be honest, though. The people who want state control of everything — whether it’s marriage or safety or anything else — aren’t really worried about principles or rights. They’re interested in outcomes. The politicians who are grandstanding here don’t care about rights. They merely care about their views being enforced by law. Isn’t that what they complain about the Religious Right trying to do?
And even if you aren’t trying to use the force of law to compel compliance, do you really want to live in a world where everyone only does business with others who they agree with?
If I go to a restaurant, I’m interested in whether the place serves food I want at a price I’m willing to pay. I’m interested in how I’m treated there. I’m interested in whether I like the people who serve me. On all of those points, Chick-fil-A shines. They have excellent fast food. They’re obsessive in insisting that employees treat customers well. Their training is legendary in this regard, and they’re better than any other chain I know of at getting rid of problem employees in order to deliver a consistently good experience. They’re not perfect, but I know of no other place that comes close.
(I’ll especially give credit to the Chick-fil-A locations in Trussville, the Birmingham suburb where I live, and in Leeds, just a bit south of me. It’s hard to see how anybody could beat the service that these two stores routinely provide for their customers.)
If I go to a dry cleaner, I care about whether the folks there can clean my clothes. When I go to get a haircut — from a gay guy, by the way — I’m interested in whether he cuts my hair well, not with what he does on his own time or what his political views might be. If I go to a grocery store, I’m interested in whether the place has the products I want to buy and prices I can afford, not whether the company management might disagree with me about foreign policy or taxation (both of which I consider moral issues).
I’m treated well at Chick-fil-A and I like the service and the people. In addition, one of my very favorite people happens to be a manager at the Chick-fil-A in my neighborhood — and he’s gay. Everybody there knows that. It’s never been an issue. He’s not treated any differently than anybody else. And customers are treated the same whether they might be gay or not. It’s a well-run company that treats its employees and customers well. Whether you agree with the company owners’ position on marriage or not, Chick-fil-A is an excellent company.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Southern Baptist Convention — the nation’s largest protestant denomination — participated in an eight-year boycott of Disney over the company’s pro-gay and alleged anti-Christian stance. The boycott was spearheaded by a Religious Right group called the American Family Association and the Baptists followed. In 2006, the groups finally ended the boycott, making vague noises about it having been effective. Nobody really believed that — and it was a terrible idea from the start.
If you want to boycott a company because you disagree with the company’s management on political or religious issues — and you demand that other people do the same — I think you’re the one who’s being intolerant.
Note: The Atlantic had an article last week that I also recommend on the issue of the Chick-fil-A boycott. In addition, Glenn Greewald has an excellent article today on the free speech implications of Rahm Emanuel’s political attack.