Several conservative writers, notably Michelle Malkin in today’s Washington Examiner, have already criticized Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for their moves to block the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A from opening outlets in their precincts. Chick-fil-A’s offense: opposition to same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A was founded by S. Truett Cathy who makes no secret of his espousal of Christian values; unlike other fast food restaurants, it’s not open on Sunday. His son and the firm’s current president Dan Cathy in a recent interview made it clear that he is opposed on religious grounds to same-sex marriage.
Conservatives like Malkin and libertarians like megablogger Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit are not the only ones who are outraged by this; so are the liberal editorial writers of the Boston Globe. Their point is simple, and based on Supreme Court rulings: it’s wrong and unconstitutional under the First Amendment for government to deny business licenses because of an applicant’s speech and beliefs. As the Globe rightly notes, “If the mayor of a conservative town tried to keep out gay-friendly Starbucks or Apple, it would be an outrage.”
As a conservative on most issues and a supporter of same-sex marriage, I find it fascinating that liberal politicians are so ready to clamp down on others’ speech. It’s certainly permissible to refuse to patronize a restaurant because you dislike the owner’s beliefs and to encourage, by means short of violence or intimidation, others to do so. It’s also kind of foolish and in my view would be a waste of time to have to research owners’ or managers’ political views before going somewhere to eat. But for public officials to penalize people because of their expressed beliefs—well, I wouldn’t go as far as blogger Elizabeth Scalia does when she titles a blogpost “this is how fascism works,” but it’s pretty nasty stuff.
Mayors Emanuel and Menino are treating opposition to same-sex marriage as something akin to Hitlerism or Stalinism. But it’s not. My own observation is that the large majority of people taking stands on both sides of this issue do so because they believe their policy would be good for people and good for society. Yes, you can find anti-SSM people who hate homosexuals (though precious few in this country, I think, who support Iran-style capital punishment for them) and you can also find some advocates of SSM who seem to hate those who take other views and call for undermining the institutions of marriage and the family. But such people are very much in the minority. I think we would do well to start off assuming that those who disagree with us on this issue do so out of good motives and to treat them with respect, as I think both Barack Obama, both before and after he changed his position on this issue, and Mitt Romney have done.