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Menino v. Chick-fil-A

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  July 26, 2012 04:57 PM

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You know we are in the silly season of summer when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino fires up the old bully pulpit to roast his political enemies and fire up his base.

Nothing else explains the Mayor’s decision to issue a public letter to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy, blasting Mr. Cathy for his opposition to same-sex marriage and “urging” the homophobic fried-food honcho to “back out of your plans to locate in Boston.”

“There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trial and no place for your company alongside it,” the Mayor wrote.

“We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people,” he added. “We are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights.”

Huzzah!

But, you may ask, what about Dan Cathy’s rights?

Everybody has a right to spout off about same-sex marriage and equal rights. Mr. Cathy and those who share his views can have their shout, even if their views are bigoted. Likewise, the Mayor and others who reject Mr. Cathy’s backwards views on marriage equality have a right publicly to denounce prejudice. That’s the American way.

Of course, there are limits. Chick-fil-A and other restaurants must abide by Massachusetts nondiscrimination laws in employment and public accommodations. Similarly, government officials who engage in state action – such as refusing a permit – based on viewpoint discrimination are subject to strict scrutiny by the Courts for potentially violating the First Amendment.

Looks like that’s what happened in Chicago, where a local alderman threatened to use his “aldermanic privilege” to actually deny Chick-fil-A a building permit. There, Mr. Cathy may have a pretty strong claim under the First Amendment that he is a victim of viewpoint discrimination by a government official.

But here in Boston, the facts as reported suggest this is little more than a war of words – which is protected by the First Amendment as core speech.

Personally, I think this whole spat may be good for equal marriage rights in the long run. Did you see that politicians Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are now trying to rally all homophobes to eat at Chick-fil-A?

I’m thrilled. In fact, I encourage all bigots to load up on transfats and carbohydrates. Go ahead – eat your heart out on the “Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit” breakfast! Mmmm.

Given that polls consistently show that support for equality under the law grows stronger with each new generation of Americans, this might just might be turn out to be a happy meal for defenders of equality after all.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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