The Chick-fil-A controversy over same-sex marriage holds some keys to the questionable advice President Barack Obama got from Rahm Emanuel when he was White House chief of staff.
Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, has told the fast-food vendor that its restaurants aren't welcome in his city -- joining the chief executives of several other big cities with large gay and lesbian constituencies who have done the same in what can only be described as a clear case of political pandering.
So now we have official government sponsorship, at least on a local level, of repression of thought, speech and, for that matter, religion.
Before all the hollering begins, let me note that this has nothing to do with being for or against same-sex marriage. It has to do with any American's right to hold certain beliefs without fear of reprisal as long as there is no illegal company policy that stems from those beliefs. It is also about the rights of other Americans to personally decide not to patronize the businesses of those with whom they disagree. It further has to do with elected officials who overstep their authority to interfere with those rights by calling for economic sanctions against their owners' businesses.
Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, is a devout Christian billionaire who opposes same-sex marriage. He made that known a while back on a broadcast and then in an interview with the Baptist press. He certainly isn't alone in his beliefs.
His remarks caused an instant storm of protest and calls for boycotts of the company he heads from the gay and lesbian community and those who disagree with his interpretation of the Bible. Chick-fil-A, which employs thousands of workers (some of whom are surely same-sex practitioners), hasn't been accused of denying employment or refusing service based on lifestyle. Also, the company has made it clear that it doesn't want to be in the center of this current controversy and that Cathy's beliefs are his own.
Then why all the fuss?
Ideologues come in all different stripes and from different directions on the political spectrum. By his actions alone, Emanuel has certified his prominence among those in the knee-jerk far left. But he had done that in a long career of political adventures from the Congress to the White House; his main relationship with the Bible seems to have been his use of language that many consider blasphemous and others just tasteless. So it's unsurprising that he has little truck with interpretations of the Good Book that don't agree with his.
That's especially true when it comes to political expediency. Without consideration for the kind of dangerous precedent they might be setting and what violence they might be doing to to the First Amendment, Emanuel and his fellow mayors in Boston and San Francisco blithely put themselves above the constitutional guarantees we all enjoy. Talk about a misuse of the bully pulpit. Wielding the bludgeon of elected office to economically punish a company for no other reason than it dislikes the owner's views is clearly a despotic action of serious magnitude.
Now, if they said that not only didn't they agree with Cathy, they personally wouldn't frequent his places of business, that would have been perfectly within their rights, as it is for any American. We all have friends who do that for one reason or another. But it is entirely different to in effect tell Cathy his legitimate, inoffensive businesses aren't welcome in their cities in a version of the old "get out of town by sundown." In so doing, the mayors deny access to millions of their own constituents who believe that marriage should be between a man and woman.
The judgment that Emanuel has shown in this instance makes one wonder about his counsel to the president whose policies for whatever reason haven't been able to extricate the nation from the worst economy since the Great Depression.
It would be easy to say there are more serious matters to take up, but Emanuel and his allies have made that difficult.
(Dan Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard News Service.)