Monday, August 6, 2012

Chik-Fil-A: Free Speech or Sedition?

I AM A BLEEDING HEART LIBERAL. As a rabbi I must be careful how to talk about this from the pulpit-but here, in cyberspace, I think I am allowed to be totally upfront about my Cantabrigian roots (first place in the US to perform same-sex marriage), belief in equal rights for all above creature comforts for some, and being a registered Democrat who actually goes out and votes. I don’t eat meat, don’t kill bugs and try to live in mixed income housing (although in Atlanta, it turns out that sort of thing seems not to exist but I do the best I can)

So you will not be surprised when I share with you that I support legally defining marriage as between two people regardless of gender.

As you may have heard, Chik-Fil-A president, Dan Cathy, came out as anti-gay marriage. People are in an uproar. None of this is news.

Although I find his opinion disagreeable, he has the right to share it. From a business perspective, if I were the president of a big company, I might keep my controversial feelings to myself. In Cathy’s defense, Chik-Fil-A is consistent with its conservative Christian values in how it runs its business (closed on Sundays so Christians can have more time for worship). It is not a publically traded company, their hiring practices are all legal and they have not broken any laws as far as I know. (And if you bring in a program from ANY house of worship, they will give you a free sandwich or something-even if that house of worship is non-Christian)

So he doesn’t like same-sex marriage. What difference does it make?

Well, it depends… is the definition of marriage is a religious issue or a legal one?

When who married whom fell mostly in the world of religious beliefs-you know-whether or not you are going to hell if you get it on with someone with the same body parts as your-then Cathy is protected under freedom of speech.

BUT marriage is not a religious issue in our country, especially these days. It is a legal one. According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 1,138 statutory provisions in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges. These rights and responsibilities apply to only male-female couples.

So in the six states, DC and two Native American tribal jurisdictions where gay is A-ok, all couples are afforded theses rights. Twelve states offer a subset of these statutes , and New Jersey grants civil unions that provide "all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, public policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage. In the other states, if your lovie is, God forbid, dying, you have no legal standing to be there with them. If you and your life partner have a child together one of you may not be able to have parenting rights. You get no tax benefits for being married like all the heterosexual couples do and thousands of other little rights just are not yours.

In those states, you can say whatever you want against same-sex marriage (as long as you are not inciting a riot or something). But in the 19 states, DC and two Native American tribal jurisdictions, Cathy’s comments are tantamount to sedition which means “overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws.

Gerogia, Cathy’s home-base, allows him to oppose gay-marriage all he wants since our state disallows it. But, in other places like Boston (Massachusetts: pro same-sex marriage) and Chicago (Illinois has civil unions) Mayors Tom Menino and Rahm Emanuel have both opposed Chick-Fil-A’s owner’s anti-same-sex marriage comments. Both have made motions to prevent stores from opening in these cities because speaking out against the laws of the state is, quite simply, a crime.

So before everyone gets all uppity about Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A ask yourself this-are we talking law or are we talking religion? If we are talking religion, then even Jesus believed we should all love one another (and I’m pretty sure there was no asterisk next to that line saying *unless you’re a dude who is into dudes). Personally, I don’t believe in a God who made all of us in God’s image and then said but don’t love the people that the heart I made in you tells you to love.

And if we are talking law, then marriage is a right afforded to some but not to all and last I checked our nation in the Declaration of Independence said that was not allowed either.

Rabbi Rachael Bregman is a rabbi in Atlanta. She is an alum of Clal's Rabbis Without Borders program.