After touching off national debate this summer over gay marriage and freedom of speech, Chick-fil-A is getting out of politics.
At least according to gay rights advocates in Chicago, who announced that they had secured an agreement by the Atlanta chicken chain to stop donating to political or social groups that oppose gay marriage rights.
Chick-fil-A, however, neither confirmed nor denied the claim. Instead it referred to a statement promising equal treatment and political neutrality that it had issued in July, shortly after controversy erupted over comments by top executive Dan Cathy in which he sided with traditional marriage proponents.
Still, the Chicago announcement, issued by city alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno and the Civil Rights Agenda group, fueled internet headlines trumpeting Chick-fil-A’s change of position.
That sparked split reactions among customers.
“Victory never tasted so sweet,” said one of many commenters at the company’s Facebook page, “Anyone for Chick-fil-A?”
“If this story is true,” wrote another, “Chick Fil A better be ready to lose alot of customers in the future.”
Some said company executives should clarify whether anything has actually changed.
Moreno had blocked the opening of a new Chicago location because of the controversy, which stemmed not only from Cathy’s comments but also from Chick-fil-A’s purported support of groups considered anti-gay.
In the announcement, dated Tuesday, Moreno said that after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, his office and Civil Rights Agenda struck a deal with Chick-fil-A to treat the gay, lesbian and transgendered community with equality.
Moreno said he will support the new location as a result.
He said the chain has “changed their practices and promised the workplace protections that all of our citizens deserve. Instead of being a company that openly promotes discrimination, Chick-fil-A has vowed to move forward.”
“The company today has put into writing, for the first time, that its employees are to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender…our intent is not to engage in political or social debates,” Moreno’s office said, adding the company would put the statement in a document called “Chick-fil-A: Who We Are.””
While Cathy said he had only expressed personal comments, gay rights advocates say the company, through franchisees and its WinShape Foundation, have given money to groups they consider anti-gay.
Moreno’s office said Chick-fil-A promised to refrain from backing such groups as part of the new deal.
“The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas,” the alderman’s statement said.
One of the organizations said to be supported by Chick-fil-A, the National Organization for Marriage, issued a statement denying it has ever gotten money from the chicken chain. At the same time, it said, “We support Chick-fil-A’s philosophy that every person is treated with ‘honor, dignity and respect’ … and we will continue to endorse ‘Chick-fil-A Wednesdays’ calling upon all supporters of marriage, free speech and religious liberty to thank Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, for taking a courageous stand to speak out in defense of marriage and his freedom to speak.”
Answering a call by former Arkansas Gov.-turned-talk show host Mike Huckabee, thousands turned out at Chick-fil-A stores on a Wednesday in late July for a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Many said they supported free speech. The result was a single-day sales record.
Gay marriage supporters staged a “kiss in” a few days later that brought national attention to their cause, but smaller crowds.
Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser for the Civil Rights Agenda, said he believes Chick-fil-A’s main motive is to sell more chicken.
“They are not having a change of heart,” he said. “They are looking at the money. They recognize they can’t get into (markets in the northeast and large metro areas outside the South) if they are perceived as anti-gay. “