All of a sudden, biting into a fried chicken sandwich has become a political statement.
Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney (D) entered into the Chick-fil-A furor this week with a letter to company president Dan Cathy.
The latest skirmish in the nation's culture wars began when Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” In a later radio interview, he ratcheted up the rhetoric: “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.’”
Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids' meals, and politicians in Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.
Kenney wrote: “As a fellow American and an elected member of Philadelphia City Council; I am entitled to express my opinion as well. So please -- take a hike and take your intolerance with you. There is no place for this type of hate in our great City of Brotherly and Sisterly Affection.”
The company’s website lists 8 restaurants located in Philadelphia out of a total of 60 across Pa.
Across the Bible Belt, where most of the 1,600 restaurants are situated, Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
That fired up gay rights advocates, including a group that waged a campaign against the company in recent years by publicizing $3 million in contributions that the Cathy family foundation has made to conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council.
“This solidifies Chick-fil-A as being closely aligned with some of the most vicious anti-gay voices in the country,” said Carlos Maza of Equality Matters.
A Chicago alderman vowed to block a Chick-fil-A proposed in his district, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported him, saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote in a letter to Cathy: “There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”
In announcing it was pulling its toys, the Jim Henson company said it has “celebrated and embraced diversity for over 50 years.” It directed its revenue from the Chick-fil-A toys to GLAAD, a leading gay rights organization.
On the other side of the debate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared next Wednesday “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” to support a business “whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values.” Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who like Huckabee ran for president as a darling of social conservatives, joined the cause along with religious leaders.
Chick-fil-A posted more than $4.1 billion in sales last year, most of it below the Mason-Dixon Line. Just 14 of its restaurants are in the six states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal. Massachusetts has just two locations, both more than 10 miles from Boston. Illinois, which does not have same-sex marriage, has around a dozen, though only one in Chicago.