Chicken in, chicken out

When the history of the struggle for same sex marriage is written, it’s unlikely that this week’s chicken battles will rate more than a footnote, but it’s an entertaining day.  Opponents of same sex marriage, mobilized by Mike Huckabee, have promised to turn up with cash today, buying chicken sandwiches from the restaurant chain.  Expect a bump in Chick-Fil-A sales today, with some enthusiasts promising to buy lunch from half-a-dozen outlets.

But that, like habitual overeating more generally, can’t last too long.  Chicken sandwich fans will get full–or run out of cash, or decide to try KFC, El Pollo Loco, Wendy’s, or they might even just pack lunch from home.  At some point personal preferences–or even concerns about health–will trump politics.

And supporters of same sex marriage have promised to boycott Chick-Fil-A and donate their lunch money to activist groups.  Expect a blip in donations, but this won’t last forever either.  People want lunch!

Just the threat of a consumer boycott can warn most companies off controversial political positions.  The threat of a boycott led dozens of companies (including Wendy’s and PepsiCo, which owns KFC) to desert ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and pushed ALEC to abandon its voter ID program.  The threat of a boycott led scores of advertisers to desert Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his viscous and personal attacks on a law student who supported access to contraception through her health insurance.

But Chick-Fil-A is privately held, and Dan Cathay cares about more than profits; he can leave money on the table in service of his broader Christian mission.  Indeed, he already does, keeping his restaurants closed on Sundays so his employees can go to church, spend time with their families, and eat at KFC.  The sandwich and the service might keep him in business in ways that his politics can’t, and those politics might compromise the growth of the company in central cities and on college campuses.  If he cared only about profits, he’d stay out of the marriage debate.  (This is why, by the way, Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would kill religion.)

So, this week will be entertaining, a time for pickets and poultry, and Friday’s kiss-in, but the larger struggle will be moving back to the ballot box, the courts, and the larger political process.  Democrats will put a plank in their platform supporting same sex marriage, and Republicans will…try not to talk about it too much.  Remember, roughly half of Americans now support same sex marriage, and a party that wants to win elections can’t leave too many prospective voters on the table.

Who’s chicken?

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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