We value all of our second-class citizens so much, we intend to keep them that way

When I first heard Chick-fil-a President Dan Cathy’s remarks about marriage, images of “Whites Only” signs in restaurant windows during the Jim Crow era popped to mind. The above graphic resulted from this imagery. When companies take a stand against social issues like marriage equality, they unfortunately put themselves on the side of forces that supported “separate but equal” in the U.S. civil rights battle.

The recent flap over Chick-fil-a President Dan Cathy’s comments regarding the rights of homosexuals to marry is a useful petri dish in which to study the U.S. problem with equal rights for heterosexuals and homosexuals. This controversy has been littered with all kinds of contradictions, hypocrisies, and logical fallacies. Let’s dig into it.

First, you may feel very differently than I do about the right of homosexuals to marry. That’s your right. It’s my right to believe, based on both reliable social science data and personal experience, that there is only a benefit to bringing equality into the realm of marriage. I view marriage as a civil rights issue with a deep connection to the constitutional requirement to separate church and state. The state should have the right to recognize marriage independent of whether or not a religious institution will perform the ceremony and independent of sexual orientiation. The state should not tell committed couples who want to enter into a stable relationship, own property, and define other financial benefits (e.g. inheritance, ownership of the estate) that they do not have that right based solely on sexual orientation. The state should not be allowed to setup a system of “separate but equal” – or, in the case of sexual identity, “separate and mostly equal.” Private institutions, including churches and businesses, have every right to adhere to such views except where those views cross the law or violate the civil rights of an individual. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with those private institutions.

Dan Cathy’s Original Remarks

In an interview with Baptist Press [1], company president Dan Cathy had this to say:

“Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position [against homosexual marriage].

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

“We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.” [1]

It is important to note that Cathy’s remarks are not limited to homosexual marriage. He targets several groups of people:

  1. He bashes divorced Americans who remarry
  2. He bashes the right of homosexuals to marry
  3. He bashes the right of the unmarried to run/own a business, by saying that of those running their restaurants “some are single,” and implying that a family is better able to run a business than a single person.
  4. He also implies that the leadership is all male (“we are married to our first wives”), suggesting gender is an issue here as well

So as far as I am concerned, Cathy trashed on everyone except males married to their first wives. Another thing of note is that Cathy claims that his company operates ” . . . on biblical principles” and adopts the “biblical definition of the family unit.” Let’s keep that in mind.

The EqualityMatters group released a report suggesting that Chick-fil-a is putting its money where its mouth is [2], donating nearly $2 Million to anti-homosexual groups in 2010.

Chick-fil-a’s Follow-up Remarks

A backlash then happened against Cathy and his company. In response to those backlashes, the company then released this statement on its Facebook page [2]:

The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.

Hypocrisy, Contradiction, Logical Fallacies, Sex, Money, and all that

Let’s begin with hypocrisy and contradiction. We have two statements, one from the company president saying that Chick-fil-a supports the biblical definition of family and opposed homosexual marriage (which means that it considers sexual matters a distinguishing feature when it comes to rights) and one from the company press office saying that the company treats every person with “honor, dignity and respect – regardless . . . sexual orientation.” So which is it?

As Watergate taught us, the key is to follow the money. In 2010, Chick-fil-a reported $3.6 billion in sales [4]. Its profit margin in that same year was 5.1% [5], or a total of $184 million. Of that, it is reported to have donated $2 million dollars to groups that work against homosexual equal rights; in other words, of its profits in 2010, it spent 1% working against equal rights for homosexuals. To put that in context, that is more than it spent on scholarships for its employees. According to its own press release on its sales, it spent just $1.5 million on scholarships to help educate its employees.

So the money says that Chick-fil-a values the fight against homosexual equal rights MORE than it does the equality conferred by educating its own employees. That speaks louder than any words on a corporate Facebook page. I call shenanigans.

Let’s then look at logical fallacies. One important logical fallacy is called “equivocation.” This is when you intentionally use a word or phrase with multiple meanings, knowing that your audience will do one of two things. They will interpret the meaning that puts your comments in the best light. Or, they will choose the meaning that is most specific to their values. Let’s look at a few of his phrases and see where Cathy gets himself in trouble if one digs into the meaning of the words.

  1. “biblical definition of the family unit”: Most fundamentalist Christians will take this to mean what has been drilled into them from the pulpit: one man, one woman, and 2.5 children. In fact, a literal and fundamentalist reading of the Bible yields a rich tapestry of definitions of the family unit. For instance, in the Book of Genesis, often cited as religious evidence against the Big Bang and Natural Selection, we find this gem: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ (Genesis 16:1-3 NIV)” So we have one definition of the biblical family unit: “Can’t have kids with your first wife? No problem – God and your wife wants you to go hump her slave.”Here is another one, my favorite one to whip out when people argue that the Bible is a good guide to family relations. “Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.’ That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. The next day the older daughter said to the younger, ‘Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.’ So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. (Genesis 19:30-36 NIV)”

    And that’s just in Genesis. I can cherry pick more of these, but just go search for words like “family,” “wife,” “marriage,” and “slave” in Ref. [6]. The Bible, read literally and broadly, is a terrible guide to the definition of family in our modern society.

  2. Chick-fil-a is a company founded on “biblical principles”: Cathy makes this point in his original interview, and of course this phrase is not defined. If the principles of family laid out in the Bible are some kind of guide, then I wouldn’t know what to make of this statement. Of course, fundamentalist Christians will read this only in a positive light focused narrowly on a few of the good things said by, for instance, Jesus Christ. But Cathy didn’t say “New Testament Principles” – he framed it broadly, presumably also to include Leviticus. By that definition, women with their periods would not be allowed to work around men in a Chick-fil-a store (“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:19 NIV). So that would violate a biblical definition of a “clean workplace.” OK, I am being snarky, but this is what happens when you stop accepting the equivocation and actually seek concrete definitions of the broad term “biblical principles.”

Conclusions

You may be against the rights of homosexuals to marry. Dan Cathy is one of those people. But citing vague terms to back your claims, like “biblical principles” or “biblical family unit” in fact opens you up to acceptance of incest, slavery, and infidelity. You need to be specific. We all know what Cathy meant, but the job of the skeptic (me) is not to cede intentions to a speaker; it’s to call out their vagaries and their abuse of reason, language, and logic. Cathy’s use of vague language was tuned only to resonate with fundamentalist Christians, and that means that he mis-communicated to most Americans.

Chick-fil-a claims that it treats people fairly, regardless of sexual orientation. But their spending says otherwise. They spend 33% more money ($2 million total) funding anti-homosexual groups than they do educating their employees with scholarship money ($1.5 million total, according to their own press release in 2010). I call shenanigans. What they are saying with their spending against homosexual marriage is the following: “The Chick-fil-a company values its second-class citizens, and intends to do everything in its power to keep them that way.”

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[1] http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=38271

[2] http://equalitymatters.org/factcheck/201207020001

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2176411/Chick-Fil-A-restaurant-chain-damage-control-president-Dan-Cathys-comments-gay-marriage.html

[4] www.chick-fil-a.com/Media/PDF/2010SalesRelease.pdf

[5] http://omaha.com/article/20120109/MONEY/701099957/0

[6] http://www.biblegateway.com/

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