There has been much gloom in the progressive community at what seemed like an overwhelming show of support for Chick-fil-A. In response to the call for people to go there and buy food on August 1 to show their support for the company president’s anti-gay attitude, there were long lines of people waiting to buy these sandwiches. The company reportedly had a record sales day.
On the surface this seems like a step backward from the steady progress that has been made towards equal rights for the LGBT community, with some worrying that it could be a sign that the pendulum is swinging back. News reports and blogs had gay people expressing dismay that so many people living in their same communities were so willing to go to all this trouble to publicly show their hostility towards them.
I think that that is far too pessimistic a view. Yes, there are still a lot of people out there, maybe from a third to half the population, who are opposed to granting the LGBT community equal rights. But we already know that from opinion polls. But we also know from the same polls that this group is shrinking rapidly and that the demographics are seriously against them, with younger people not sharing their views. The trend is unmistakable. Back in 2008 I predicted that “within the next decade gays will gain significantly in their struggle to be accepted as equals.” The change is coming even faster than I thought.
In light of that, what are we to make of this outpouring of public support for Chick-fil-A? We have to bear in mind that this kind of brief symbolic action is attractive mainly to those who are feeling beleaguered. Rather than being a show of strength, I think it is more a sign of powerlessness, of people finding a way to release their sense of frustration and impotence that things are not going the way they like on this issue.
What one should look at is what did not happen. By coming out in favor of same sex marriage and getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military, president Obama has firmly aligned himself on the side of equal rights for the LGBT community. If opposition to gay rights was seen as a winning political issue, and given that Mitt Romney has been trailing steadily in the polls and needs something to break the stalemate, the Chick-fil-A uproar came at just the right time for him, providing him with a golden opportunity to strike a sharp contrast with Obama by endorsing the eat-in. He was urged by people like Bill Kristol to go and eat there because it was “the right thing to do, and politically smart, too.”
And yet Romney ducked the opportunity, angering social conservatives in the process. As another example of how he sees no advantage in advocating anti-gay views, Romney also agreed with Obama that gay boy scouts should be allowed in the organization though they both didn’t go so far as to cut their ties with the organization.
Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus was noticeably silent on the Chick-fil-A issue. So was House speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. In fact, the silence of the Republican party establishment before, during, and after the August 1 action was deafening. As far as I am aware, not a single one of the Republican politicians who think they have a future in national politics (such as vice-presidential wannabees Bibby Jindal, Chris Christie, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Marco Rubio) took part in this action or even publicly supported it. Their support, if expressed at all, only extended to tepidly saying they disapproved of mayors preventing the opening of the restaurants in their cities.
The only recognizable Republican politicians who enthusiastically supported the eat-in action were people like Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Lindsay Graham, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann, all people whose time on the national stage has passed and whose only hope of staying in the limelight is to act as spokespersons for the rump of the party.
So the Chick-fil-A episode, rather than demonstrating the strength of anti-gay attitudes, revealed the fact that it has ceased to be a potent political weapon.
Stephen Colbert gave an editorial on the issue that was interesting in the way he tried to distance his own Christian beliefs from the eat-in.
(This clip appeared on August 6, 2012. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)