Chic-fil-A is making waves. Not for any hateful comment, but for admitting that it supports traditional marriage.
Now, I do have something to say about gay marriage—hardly shocking for a blog inspired by the Catholic faith, but first let’s address our relationship with businesses and social issues.
1) Why gay marriage?
Why is this question enticing so many companies to take a stand one way or the other? Why haven’t companies come out opposing human trafficking and dedicating money to stop that? Or why isn’t abortion the focal point? And I really mean this question. If we’re looking at the gay marriage question as indicative of a culture war and how the business views things broadly, why isn’t the issue abortion? It’s arguably just as controversial, divisive and cultural. I really am curious to the answer to this. (Also, no one seems to give Chic-Fil-A a hard time for being closed on Sundays, though few people observe the Sabbath themselves).
2) Is it the proper role of businesses to take positions on social issues?
Maybe. Maybe not. It does make sense for entrepreneurs to keep tabs on issues affecting their product. For instance, Starbucks sells coffee. It makes good business sense for them to trade ethically with coffee growers and promote this issue. Or Chic-fil-A, it makes sense for them to be concerned about the treatment of animals, particularly those that are in their product—chickens.
But should corporate social issue advocacy extend beyond this? I don’t think so. I understand that business owners are individuals who have the right to support or oppose causes. They can do that as private citizens just like the rest of us. To me, it seems unnecessary to politicize purchasing by aligning brands with social causes unrelated to their product or service.
3) Is there a moral obligation to boycott companies we disagree with?
This stems naturally from #2. Businesses don’t help their causes by making buying into a social statement. What if I just want a frappacino? That shouldn’t say anything beyond my taste in coffee beans and cream. And if I want a chicken sandwich, the only thing I want to say with my Chic-fil-A purchase is that they make really good fried chicken.
Now, buying coffee and chicken (among other things) has become an indication of my personal views. So does that mean that I should boycott the one I disagree with?
Does it mean I have to boycott the companies I disagree with? Hopefully not. Here’s why: In general, these boycotts haven’t been super effective, and I don’t think they are morally obligatory. In our world, corporations and money are so mixed and mashed up, that it would be virtually impossible to avoid supporting companies that donate to or support objectionable causes: Abortion, animal-testing, sweat-shop labor, etc. I haven’t heard many calls to boycott Apple because their products are built overseas by workers paid miniscule wages. And what companies are there that don’t test cosmetics or cleaning products on animals? (Ok, Burt’s Bees, but beyond that?)
The point is, given the overwhelming and convoluted nature of products and money lines nowadays, we are not cooperating with evil when buying an iPod. I think the same applies to Starbucks outings and our Gmail accounts. We need not cut these things out just because the company has done something with which we disagree.
4) How, then, should we express our social views?
Tying social issues up with consumerism isn’t helpful. We have enough tendencies to rationalize purchases we don’t need. Supporting various causes doesn’t need to be one of them. So what are we left with?—I say, the good ol’ way. We can donate to organizations we support. We can write editorials or even blogs. We can tell our friends. We can VOTE! We can select people to represent us who really do represent us. That’s their job anyway, not the job of chain coffee shops.
5) Is it right for governments to take positions for/against companies on the basis of social views?
Here is the big question. I believe it is very, very dangerous for cities, states, or even the country to limit businesses on the basis of their social views. Boston and Chicago have prominently condemned Chic-fil-A for supporting traditional marriage. To me, that seems extremely close to condemning them for their Christian worldview. And we should all know that government, in this country, is not supposed to support or oppose a particular religion.
Significantly, no city in Texas condemned Starbucks or vowed to try to limit its ability to grow because of its identification with the cause of gay marriage (at least that I know of).
Overall, I think buying, for the most part, needs to be de-politicized. I don’t think that boycotts are morally obligatory or even effective in these cases.
We need to think about how and why certain issues are causing bigger stirs than others and if perhaps we are being manipulated emotionally. Business is one thing; ideas are ideas. I understand that nothing is totally neutral; our choices are important and morally charged, but can’t there be a pleasant market place where we just exchange goods peacefully?
[It’s obviously different if one finds the product itself objectionable such as a vegetarian not eating at Outback Steakhouse.]
Are there certain issues that would entice you to boycott a business over it? How should we express our views in public square? Do consumer purchases really send messages? Should they?