Occasionally, a politician surprises us with a sensible act that places human rights over corporate interest. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino did just with a statement this week in the Boston Herald stating that controversial fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, notorious for its anti-gay agenda, would not be allowed to open restaurants in the city.
The July 19 statement read, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”
Menino’s remarks were in response to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s recent confirmation that the company does have an anti-gay bias. Cathy said on “The Ken Coleman Show” that he’s glad to be on the right side of the marriage debate in America.
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” Cathy said. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
It’s been known for some time that the company, based in Atlanta, has supported anti-LGBT groups and campaigns. In the 2010 election, Chick-fil-A gave $2 million to hate groups like the Marriage & Family Foundation, Exodus International and the Family Research Foundation. But when the president of the restaurant chain comes forward to speak so directly against gay marriage, it is no longer a behind-the-scenes fight.
Menino took a courageous stand by banning the restaurant from Boston — there’s a reason it’s known as one of America’s most progressive cities. Although it’s certainly controversial for a city government to ban a company from doing business within its borders, elected officials need to have the power to put the best interest of the citizens they represent first.
Large corporations have their own political culture and agenda and are allowed to use huge sums of money to exert influence over politicians. To balance that equation, elected officials should have the power to ban companies whose political agenda is detrimental to local citizens.
The same argument was used for banning Wal-Mart in Chicago. The retail behemoth has a reputation for undercutting wages, discriminating against employees and destroying local businesses. For years, the city blocked its attempts to tap into the large urban market by requiring high wages that the company refused. Finally, though, former Mayor Richard M. Daley caved on the big-box ban and Wal-Marts began popping up across Chicago.
Hopefully, Boston keeps its ban in place until Chick-fil-A changes its philosophy. Libertarians and other small-government minded people, while not advocating for gay discrimination, have slammed the city’s ban on the grounds that government should not tell people where to spend their money. Their view — which has its merits — is that people can decide to boycott a company if they do not agree with its practices. In other words, let the markets decide.
Many people, though, aren’t aware of Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay agenda. I myself ate their a few times before I knew. The same goes for Wal-Mart or any other company with poor corporate philosophy. And it’s not as if Menino is saying Boston’s citizens can’t leave the city and go eat at Chick-fil-A somewhere else; they just can’t do it within city limits.
In matters like this, local governments should be allowed to have broader power over their jurisdiction. While we share many common beliefs across the country, America’s metropolitan areas all have distinct local cultures. Cities are run best when the people can decide what’s best for them without mandates from the state or federal government.
If Bostonians are fine without Chick-fil-A, then power to them. The idea that markets are better than government at regulating bad companies has proven false too many times. Mayor Menino deserves credit for giving the anti-gay fast-food chain the finger.