Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 27, 2012

A game of chicken

Chik-Fil-A has gotten off to a rocky start in its quest to open a restaurant in Mountain View, and the path is unlikely to get smoother any time soon, thanks to a growing controversy over the company's stance on same-sex marriage.

The chain of fried-chicken sandwich restaurants first ran afoul of the City Council in February with its request for a drive-through for its proposed location at 1962 W. El Camino Real. Citing concerns over pollution from idling cars, a majority of council members said they'd like to look into a moratorium on new drive-throughs.

But with no moratorium yet on the books, Chick-Fil-A managed to get approval of its restaurant from the city's zoning administrator, Peter Gilli, — with a drive-through. That success is tempered by the fact that two groups of Mountain View residents are pursuing an appeal over the Chick-Fil-A approval, one of which was clearly spurred by the company's anti-gay rights stance.

The Georgia-based company's funding of causes such as Proposition 8, the state initiative banning same-sex marriage, has galvanized gay rights groups.

Comments from Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy in a recent article in the Baptist Press only reinforced the growing perception that the company actively pursues a homophobic agenda. "We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy is quoted as saying. According to a report by advocacy group Equality Matters, Chick-Fil-A's WinShape Foundation in 2010 donated more than $2 million to groups with anti-gay agendas, including the Marriage & Family Foundation.

Even the Muppets are abandoning Chick-Fil-A. The Jim Henson Co. announced July 20 that it would no longer provide toys for Chick-Fil-A's children's meals, saying the company "has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors." Money from Chick-Fil-A is being donated to GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, according to a post on the Henson Co.'s Facebook page.

Locally, three groups have emerged to try to overturn the approval of what would be the first Chik-Fil-A restaurant in the Bay Area. A group of employees of the Mountain View startup HighlightCam quickly raised $1,000 on wepay.com to pay for an appeal to the City Council.

One of the organizers of the appeal, David Speakman, told local newspapers that he and his husband were the first gay couple to be legally married in Santa Clara County. He said, "It's not just a bigoted, evil company. It's a company that wants a bad restaurant in a bad spot."

The problem faced by the appellants is that council members say that disagreeing with a company's philosophy may not be grounds for keeping it from operating in Mountain View. For the council, whether the proposed restaurant site, which is currently a Sizzler, is in fact a bad spot for a drive-through restaurant may become a main issue, along with concerns about adding more cars to an El Camino Real that council members say they want to be more pedestrian friendly.

Most companies are careful to hide controversial political stances for fear of alienating customers, but some, like Chick-Fil-A, trumpet them. Chick-Fil-A's founders and owners are free to support whatever causes they wish, and direct their profits toward organizations that mirror their beliefs. Should Chik-Fil-A open in Mountain View, residents can decide whether mixing an intolerant agenda with chicken is a recipe for success.

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