Let me be clear about my personal reaction to Chik-fil-A’s corporate homophobia–expressed by its financial support for anti-gay organizations and most recently by the “guilty as charged” statement of its President. I do not patronize Chik-fil-A, and I encourage my friends and family to spend their money elsewhere. When the occasion arises, I communicate my disapproval of the corporation’s message and my hope that consumers who agree with me will communicate theirs by eating elsewhere.
But I do not applaud efforts by elected officials to treat the chain differently than any other business because of its message and beliefs.
When I was at the ACLU, the Klan was denied the right to hold a rally on the Statehouse steps. Other organizations routinely were granted permission to do so. We represented the KKK– the Jewish Executive Director (me), our African-American legal secretary, and a gay co-operating (volunteer) attorney. It certainly wasn’t because any of us agreed with the Klan’s odious message. It was because we knew that the government that could deny equal rights to the Klan today could just as easily deny equal rights to us tomorrow.
In our system–a system far too many of us don’t understand–the government has an obligation to remain neutral about ideas, even–as Justice Holmes memorably wrote–about “the idea we hate.” If Chik-fil-A, or the Klan, or the ACLU wants to open a store or office somewhere, and are otherwise following the rules, their views should not be part of the decision-making process.
The gay community, especially, should understand the importance of government neutrality. Until very recently, government officials could be counted on to exercise their powers to suppress, rather than support, GLBT folks. The social change we rightly celebrate–where a Chik-fil-A is roundly condemned for anti-gay bias–would have been impossible but for the free marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment protects.
In our system, government stays neutral so that individuals don’t have to. That means we each have an obligation to be active citizens and intentional consumers. Moral bullies want government to fight their ideological battles for them; free citizens fight their own.