The people of Boston will have to purchase their chicken sandwiches elsewhere: Mayor Thomas M. Menino has sworn that the franchise will have to fight city hall to bring its fast-food empire to Boston after Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, said gay marriage is “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” The Atlanta-based chain is hoping to open a restaurant in a popular tourist spot near the Freedom Trail — a rather ironic choice in Menino’s eyes.
“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” Menino told the Boston Herald on Thursday. “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against the population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion. That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail.”
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Chick-fil-A has been the target of critics for years. The LGBT advocacy group Equality Matters published a report that concluded Chick-fil-A had donated more than $3 million to Christian groups that oppose homosexuality between 2003 and 2009 and donated another $2 million to anti-gay causes in 2010 alone. Cathy, however, never spoke publicly about the company’s policies on the matter. Cathy finally went on record with the Baptist Press on July 16. When asked about Chick-fil-A’s support of the “traditional family” (referring, presumably, to one led by a married husband and wife), Cathy responded, “Well, guilty as charged…We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
With Cathy on the record, customers and companies alike are deciding whether to boycott the franchise. In a June 20 announcement on Facebook, CEO Lisa Henson said that the Jim Henson Company — home to the Muppets — is breaking ties with Chick-fil-A: They will no longer supply toys or other merchandise to the fast-food chain. The post has since received 6625 likes.
In response to the backlash, Chick-fil-A released a statement on Thursday that said it had a history of “applying biblically-based principles” to business management. (The franchise closes on Sundays, for example.) But the statement went on to say that the company does not discriminate:
“The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race creed, sexual orientation or gender. Going forward our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Regardless of its policies, the fast-food chain has been on a track of nationwide expansion. Having opened its first restaurant in a Georgia mall in 1967, Chick-fil-A now boasts more than 1600 restaurants in 29 states and rakes in around $4.1 billion a year. While its home state contains a whopping 196 stores, there are just two within the state of Massachusetts — both resting in the suburbs, well outside Boston city limits.
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But Menino just may succeed in effectively banning the chain from Boston: The mayor blocked the development of a Walmart in Roxbury last year, citing the retail empire’s negative impact on neighborhood business and lower-wage workers as his motivation. Now, he plans to offer Chick-fil-A a similar hurdle-laden policy. “If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult,” Menino said. “Unless they open up their policies.”
At the very least, Menino will be able to count on the support of Boston’s Northeastern University students in this fight. Chick-fil-A already had to cancel its plans to build a restaurant on that campus when students protested that the chain had donated millions of dollars to anti-gay groups. Administrators heeded the student’s wishes and told Chick-fil-A to fly the coop.