Saturday, August 11, 2012

On the Power of Bigotry

Dear Mackenzie,

The famous 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said that all that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good people to do nothing. Well, Burke actually used the word “men” instead of “people”. But in fairness to him, in the 18th century he would probably have been hung on a rope if he had included women in his philosophizing. 

But the fundamental issue behind Burke’s statement hasn’t changed in the last three centuries.  What should we do when we witness injustice that doesn’t directly impact on us?

These days only a handful of states recognize marriage between two people of the same sex. I hope that by the time you read this letter as an adult, gay marriage will be commonplace.  By then I suspect many people won’t even remember what all the fuss was about, or why anyone was against it in the first place.

From the prism of hindsight, our society will likely record this episode in our country’s history in much the same way that we now look back at the days when interracial marriage was illegal or when women didn’t have the right to vote. Most people today would be hard pressed to even articulate why there was a debate about interracial marriage, let alone that there was an actual prohibition against it.

Such are the lessons of history.  Years from now the notion that in 2012 two people who loved each other couldn’t get married in most of the states of our great country because they both had the same private parts will seem as crazy as denying women the right to vote seems to us today.  For now though, the fight rages on. And the hatred and vitriol on both sides proceeds unabated.

The debate about gay marriage usually hits the headlines only around election time, when some state or other is either trying to legalize same-sex marriage or to abolish it. But there has been much press recently because it came to light that Dan Cathy, the CEO of a $4 billion dollar a year fast food company called Chick-fil-a, was donating millions of corporate dollars to political groups who actively lobby against the legalization of gay marriage.

When the brouhaha first started, Mr. Cathy issued a statement saying that Chick-fil-a’s corporate purpose is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-a.” It’s a lovely sentiment.

I’m not sure how glorifying God and having a positive influence give rise to embracing homophobia, but who’s counting.  More to the point, I think if I had been on the board of Chick-fil-a when they were discussing corporate purpose, I might have suggested to Mr. Cathy that the corporation would be better served by leaving God out of the equation and instead committing to sell more chicken. Then again, nobody asked me.

You and your sisters, and actually our whole family, have been eating Chick-fil-a for a long time. For better or worse, we think their food is delicious.  So when the story broke there was quite a debate in our household.  Should we or shouldn’t we boycott the chain?

We all acknowledge that Mr. Cathy is entitled to his beliefs and opinions, bigoted or otherwise. And though I certainly disagree with his views I support his right to them and even to air them publicly. Nor does anyone begrudge him the right to donate money to the groups of his choosing, however ideologically backwards. At the same time, do we want to help fund those donations by giving Chick-fil-a our money?

That has been the question around our dinner table.  The other night you asked if we could go eat at Chick-fil-a. Your mom told you what Mr. Cathy was doing and how that could impact on some of our friends, many of whom you know.  I explained that we didn’t want to support a business that was donating no small measure of their profits to groups we felt were promoting injustice.

I could see on your face that you were clearly conflicted, and so I asked you how you felt about it all.  With the purity of a ten- year-old child, you said that when you thought about how their donations could harm our friends you didn’t want to eat there. But that on the other hand “their food was sooooo good. “

And there’s the rub, my sweet daughter. Mr. Cathy’s financial contributions don’t directly affect us in any way.  And yes, their chicken is indeed quite tasty.  But should we ignore the injustice?  Should we look the other way?

I can tell you that I’ve eaten my last Chick-fil-a meal. But should I be imposing my personal beliefs on you? And would I feel differently if he was contributing to the Ku Klux Klan instead?  Or to a neo-Nazi group? Would those things change our reaction? Should they?  I don’t know.

The good news is that ultimately history will not remember Mr. Cathy kindly, if at all. His fate will be much like that of former Alabama governor George Wallace, who is best remembered as the man who stood in front of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in 1963 to physically block Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling in the university for the simple reason that they were black. Fifty years later, he sounds like a buffoon.

In the meantime, you have a decision to make.  Chicken or standing by your principles? The choice is yours.  Don’t squander it.

All my everlasting love,



  1. I love this one. Mackie is lucky in you and Laura! xoxo Dawn Marie

    1. Thank you Dawn Marie, and thank you for reading. xo

  2. How about remove all Civil Unions. After all even religious people register with the government to get married. Lets just remove Government all together. That way consenting adults can live the way they choose to live.
    The Market place can then decide how to choose to accommodate the new partnerships that arise. If insurance companies only want to serve Men/Women partnerships.. well that's their right. Other companies can see the niche market and step into fulfill that need.
    There is no need for me to pay any money to the government for the right to be married. I do not need bureaucratic approval of my life choice. LGBT, Non-Religios, and Religious would then be free to marry and live how they want to live.

    1. Government recognition of a relationship is kind of important.
      Perhaps it should never have been, but unless you want to redo... everything, than the fact remains.

  3. Thanks for linking me to this. It's good that there are parents like you who don't just say "no," but explain why so the child knows why they are being told "no."