The last couple of week shave really demonstrated what media blitzes are capable of. Before Chick-Fil-A’s owner, Dan Cathy, publicly stated his opposition to gay marriage I had never heard of his restaurant. Shortly after his statement the Internet was alive with people praising and denouncing the man and his business. Those opposing gay marriages cheered Cathy’s statement and vowed to frequent his restaurant and those who support gay marriages decried the man and encouraged everybody to boycott the restaurant. What happened? People reacted:
Chick-fil-A restaurants in cities across southern states of the US, where the majority of the chain’s outlets are located, were reported to be bustling with customers who turned out in support of the chain on Wednesday.
How did this happen? Is the United States so bigoted towards homosexuals that far more will set out to support a restaurant owned by a man who is publicly opposed to gay marriages than will boycott it? To answer this question we need to do a bit of analysis.
First and foremost the reaction by the supporters of gay marriage was, to say the least, inflammatory. Mayors of Boston and Chicago both threatened to ban the restaurant from their cities while many other supporters of gay marriage loudly referred to Cathy and his supporters as bigots and homophobes. Screams about boycotting the establishment were made, Facebook boycott events were created, and angry rants were posted across the Internet. Needless to say Cathy’s supporters were receiving a great deal of hatred and decide to counter the hatred with their own plans.
Let’s look at the factions in the gay marriage debate. Only two factions have an actual stake in this debate: homosexuals who want to receive the same treatment in marriage as heterosexuals and deeply religious individuals who believe God his tasked them with bringing his word and morality to the masses. Other factions have various interests in the debate but no real stake, they won’t be personally affected. Of the two factions with a stake in this debate the deeply religious factions is by far the largest. The golden rule when confronting a much larger force is not to engage in a head-on attack. Unfortunately that’s what the proponents of gay marriage did, they engaged their smaller force in a head-on attack against a much larger force. In addition to that their move alienated them from other potential supporters.
The most intelligent move would have been to ignore Cathy’s statement and continue to fight for gay rights. Such a move would have given opponents to gay marriage nothing to rally their troops behind and such a move wouldn’t have alienated potential supporters. Instead demands for a boycott were made and two groups ran to the support of Chick-Fil-A: opponents of gay marriage and proponents of free speech. Bravo guys, you managed to give common cause to two extremely large groups. The motivation of the opponents of gay marriage was obvious, they don’t support legalized gay marriages and see Cathy as a spokesperson. What about the supporters of free speech, what was their motivation? Free speech. When the mayors of Boston and Chicago came out and threatened Chick-Fil-A with a ban from their cities they may as well have said they were punishing the establishment because its owner decided to exercise his freedom of speech. It was a stupid and devastating move.
The stupidity didn’t end there. In a move that one could believe was custom crafted to further create opposition to gay marriage supporters started slinging mud. They started referring to people who ate at Chick-Fil-A or otherwise agreed with Cathy’s statement bigots, homophobes, haters, and disgusting individuals. Insulting people is not how you build popular support for your movement. Many people who were on the fence or uninvolved suddenly had reason to support Chick-Fil-A. Why help a group of people who are calling you names even though you didn’t really have a stake in the game? Others who were on the fence but leaning towards supporting gay marriage also started backing away because few people want to work with individuals who are acting in an unprofessional manner.
To put it bluntly, advocates of gay marriage really fucked up this time. What could have been an absolute nonissue turned into a giant political fiasco. Chick-Fil-A found its stores packed with supporters, which sent a signal to other businesses informing them that opposing gay marriage may be rewarded with additional patronage. Free speech advocates, who had no reason to support Chick-Fil-A, sudden had a reason to support the restaurant. Opponents to gay marriage found themselves with a massive media platform to use to rally support to their cause. Basically every unintended consequence came to fruition.
I now see why constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage have succeeded in every state they’ve been pushed in. Getting prohibitions against gay marriage off of the books requires appealing to public opinion, it requires building support, it requires smart maneuvering. All of those things are jeopardized when a single individual is able to rile up supporters of gay marriage in such a way that they act against their own goal. You have to keep your emotions under control if you want to win public support.