It all started with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. He vowed to block Chick-fil-A’s attempts to open a restaurant within his city’s limits in response to the company president’s statement against same-sex marriage, which is legal in that state. “There’s no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it,” Menino wrote to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy.
The strong words were in response to Cathy’s June 16 comments on the Ken Coleman show. “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.’” According to a report from LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters, Chick-fil-A donated more than $2 million in 2010 alone to Christian groups that oppose homosexuality.
Cathy’s words also prompted Jim Henson’s Muppets to cut ties with the restaurant; they will no longer make toys for the company. But that was just the beginning of the fallout.
In Chicago, Ward 1 Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday that he would deny Chick-fil-A a permit if they tried to open a restaurant in his neighborhood, the cosmopolitan Logan Square area northwest of Chicago’s Loop. Calling Cathy’s comments “bigoted” and “homophobic,” Moreno said, “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward. Because of this man’s ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A’s permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the paper that he supported Moreno’s decision. “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members,” Emanuel said. “This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty.” (There is already one Chick-fil-A branch in Chicago.)
San Francisco mayor, Ed Lee, has joined fellow mayors Menino and Emanuel in the fight. Mayor Lee had perhaps the harshest words for Chick-fil-A, tweeting a warning on Friday not to open an outlet in his city, either.
Whether these mayors can actually block the chains based on Cathy’s views alone is a tricky issue. Many invoke First Amendment rights and question whether Chick-fil-A has actually ever discriminated against gay or lesbian customers or employees. Chick-fil-A issued a statement last week saying it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” and that it always planned to “treat every person with honor, dignity, and respect—regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender.” That statement did not deter protestors, who have been holding same-sex kiss-ins at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country. (Chick-fil-A chief spokesman, Don Perry, who was responsible for the company’s official response to the controversy, died unexpectedly on Friday at age 60. The company has not yet released the cause of his death.)
But despite the threat of stunted expansion, the chain is not completely without political friends. Former Republican nominee contenders Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have formed a counter-protest. Huckabee has declared August 1 to be Chick-fil-A appreciation day, encouraging those who share their views on traditional marriage to have a meal at the restaurant that day. “Our support for traditional values will be heard loud and clear,” Santorum wrote in an email to supporters on Wednesday.
And Chick-fil-A has tried to defend itself as well via social media, though Gizmodo has accused the chain of creating a fake Facebook account to garner sympathy. The Facebook user in question is named “Abby Farle,” and, Gizmodo says, her profile picture is a stock image of a teenage girl. The company has denied to BuzzFeed that they created the profile.
Stephen Colbert, of course, is having a field day with this debate and the newest accusations of a fake Facebook account. On the Colbert Report on Thursday, Colbert said: “Conspiracy theorists accused poor, little Abby of being a fake front for the corporation just because her account was created yesterday morning, and her profile picture was a stock photo of a teenage girl. So? That’s just Chick-fil-A standing up for a different minority—our proud, stock photo Americans.”
Colbert went on to say (sarcastically) that he was glad another part of our lives has been politicized. Who ever thought ordering a fried chicken sandwich would become a political statement?