Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Letter To City Council Speaker Christine Quinn About Chickengate 2012

Democracy is a funny thing. What can start out as a minor, inconsequential event can snowball into something with big-time, heavy-duty, constitutional implications. Look through the history of the Supreme Court. Some kid in Iowa wants to wear a black armband in school to protest the Vietnam War? Bam -- historic case law guaranteeing students' right to free speech. A Mexican immigrant is picked out of a police lineup and brought in for questioning and not told about a little thing called the Fifth Amendment? Oh hey! You have the right to remain silent, you guys! Police responding to a false report of a man with a gun in an apartment in Texas arrest two men inside for having sex? Gay sex for everybody! God bless America!

Which brings us to Chickengate 2012. The CEO of a fast-food chain talks about his views on same-sex marriage, and all unholy hell breaks loose. Various mayors say the company is not welcome in their town, even though they haven't, you know, broken any laws, and plenty of other companies support political causes of all stripes with rightful legal impunity. All of this was for a while merely a headache for me in my professional capacity, (which by the way, this blog post is not meant to represent. I am writing it in my bathrobe at my table with my bunny rabbit running around my feet while watching DVR'd Jeopardy episodes on Sunday. So there's that).

And then New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had to get all up in it, and now I feel some civic duty to speak up about her misguided petition. So here's what I said.

Screw it, you guys. Let's go to Five Guys.

Dear Speaker Quinn:

I am a huge supporter of you and LGBT rights, including the freedom to marry. I even work for an organization that is working tirelessly for the right of all families to have the same protection, security and dignity that only marriage can provide.

Like you, I was troubled by the CEO of Chick-Fil-A's public comments. I do not share his beliefs, and I think that it is unconstitutional for the government to deny loving, committed couples the freedom to marry.

Which is why it's troubling to have to write you regarding your petition concerning Chick-Fil-A. Just as I fervently believe in a country where all families are treated with dignity, I just as strongly believe that it is wrong for political leaders to use their influence to demand that private individuals change and denounce their personal beliefs when they have broken no laws.

As you yourself have stated, there is no evidence that Chick-Fil-A has violated any anti-discrimination laws by refusing to employ or serve anyone based on their sexual orientation, regardless of their CEO's beliefs. And while it may well be true that some of the company's profits go on to support causes that both you and I may not agree with, that is not illegal. It is up to the public -- not the government -- to hold the business accountable by withholding or supporting the business as they see fit.

To do otherwise would open the door to scrutinizing the beliefs and giving practices of all private business owners not because of any suspicion of criminal activity, but because of personal beliefs. These are not the values of a dynamic, pluralistic, democratic society. This is fascism.

I know that's a loaded word. I know you're not a fascist. I know you're only acting out of a deeply held belief that I personally find worthy and admirable. But this kind of action is actually irresponsible to that cause, as it can be rightly held up as the kind of intolerant, discriminatory action that you purport to be condemning.

I would not support a leader that acted to force a pro-LGBT business or entity to change its beliefs. I would be outraged, just as you were outraged when some leaders tried to prevent the establishment of an Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero. You said then:

"The true way to honor the Americans who died fighting for our country's founding principles is to respond to the proposal of this mosque and cultural center with support, with a deepened commitment to religious freedom, and with a deepened commitment to New York City being the freest, most tolerant, and most accepting place in the world."

Neither you, nor I, nor anyone need to support Mr. Chick-Fil-A's views or his business. And I know it's arguably just a chicken joint, and not a religious institution, so I understand it's not a perfect comparison. But we must allow private individuals to hold their beliefs and protect the ability of those who disagree with us to establish their businesses. That is the true meaning of tolerance and acceptance. Please stop the petition. You're better than this. Our city is better than this. And there are much better and constructive ways to achieve equality for all.

Robyn Shepherd