Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Outraged and Offended… over chicken?

It’s easy for me to know my position on the issue of same-sex marriage. If it was legal, I would propose to Jim immediately. Hopefully he’d say yes. We’d have a small ceremony at our church, or maybe just a civil service with a few close friends in attendance. I’m not concerned about whether or not someone else's understanding of the Bible (or any other religious text) condones my relationship. If any book, or institution, or person challenges my right to be happy, joyous and free, I’m not the problem - they are. I do not desire to spend any of my time or energy on people who would prevent me from living the life my Creator intends for me. That said, I very much support Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy’s right to walk his own spiritual path, even though I may not understand or agree with him.

Today over lunch I was on my way to the gym for some cardio when I got stuck in an unexpected traffic jam. The line of cars turning in to the Chick-Fil-A parking lot reached back a good half mile. In front of the restaurant, the crowd of people waiting to walk in stretched all the way out to the edge of the parking lot. I used to go to that Chick-Fil-A occasionally, but I stopped because every time I ate there, I got a terrible case of heartburn. That bummed me out because I really like their food. Of course, that was before this mess.

When I saw the throngs of people rushing to “appreciate” Chick-Fil-A, I wasn’t thinking about how tasty their food is. I was thinking about Ryan, the young man who always seemed to be running the drive-through when I used to stop there for lunch. Ryan is a gangly teen who greets his customers with a big smile full of braces. He is polite and attentive, and he never screws up my order. In other words, he is an exceptional fast food restaurant employee. If I trust my gaydar (and in this instance I do), he also happens to be gay.

I wonder if Ryan was working the drive-through today. How would he feel to find himself face-to-face with a crowd who, at least in part, was there because they don’t believe he is as good as they are, or that he deserves the same rights and privileges they take for granted?

Dan Cathy and his family are reported to have donated something like five million dollars to vehemently anti-gay organizations. Mr. Cathy maintains that he supports the biblical definition of “family.” If I truly cared at all how the Bible defines family, I’d look it up. But I don’t, so I didn’t. That definition doesn’t apply to me, so I’ll just have to live according to my own values, which I believe were placed in my heart by God. I do wonder if Mr. Cathy realizes that right now, working in his restaurants, even in his own family, there are gay people. We are everywhere.

But it’s not that simple. This isn’t about Chick-Fil-A being anti-gay, although it’s pretty clear there’s some of that going on. It’s also not about Dan Cathy’s First Amendment rights, which are most certainly being trampled on, at least according to Drudge and Fox News. This is about how being offended and expressing outrage have completely replaced any meaningful public discourse when we, as a society, are faced with an issue as complex as same-sex marriage. What does all the shouting really accomplish? Did any minds get changed today? Do they ever?

When I hear that cities like Boston and Chicago are trying to block Chick-Fil-A from doing business there, I worry. That’s not how we do it in America, and it’s dangerous to think it’s justifiable, just because we don’t like what someone else said. Dan Cathy can spend his money the way his conscience guides him to. So can I. We should all be doing that anyway. But here’s where I squirm a little: I haven’t spent a single dime on any marriage-equality efforts. I haven’t put my own money in service of what I believe is a very just cause. Posting snarky comments on Facebook is fun and all, but it really doesn’t do much to counteract five million dollars. What about the other businesses I patronize, about whose philanthropic efforts I know absolutely nothing? Before I get too fired up about Chick-Fil-A giving money to anti-gay causes, I should probably take an inventory of how and where I spend my own money.

As a gay person who would certainly like to get married, I hope Dan’s side loses this one. When Ryan, that kid at the drive-through, is older and ready to settle down with his special someone, I want him to have the same rights and choices that straight people have. I hope he thinks about the day in August when the full moon and the intense heat made everybody go nuts over something that should’ve been a no-brainer, and I hope he laughs about how silly we all used to act.