Rahm Emanuel has been many things in life — ballet dancer, investment banker, congressman, White House chief of staff, now mayor of Chicago — and he apparently wishes to add another title to his curriculum vitae: Grand Inquisitor. He has denounced the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A and endorsed a Chicago alderman’s plan to block construction of a new outlet because the company’s executives do not share his politics. This is a gross abuse of power: Imagine if the mayor of Provo, Utah, had tried to punish a business for supporting same-sex marriage — the Left would demand his resignation, etc. The powers of government are not to be used for parochial political ends. Even in Chicago.
It is worth taking a look at precisely what has given the mayor of the nation’s most corrupt city such cause for concern. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives,” said Chick-fil-A chief executive officer Dan Cathy in an interview that launched a million angry tweets. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.” Mr. Cathy, a purveyor of sweet tea and chicken sandwiches, has a better understanding of the American constitutional order than do the city fathers in Chicago and Boston, among other places, who also have threatened to use their municipal powers to punish Mr. Cathy and his company for this alleged anti-gay bigotry.
Bigotry should be made of sterner stuff. Mr. Cathy did not even target homosexuals, and his reference to being married to “our first wives” indicates that his criticism of the recent decay of marriage is by no means limited to the question of same-sex marriage. But even if it were, it would be worth noting that opposition to gay marriage was until the day before yesterday the official position of President Barack Obama and his administration. It was certainly the position of the administration while Mr. Emanuel served in it — not to mention the position of the Clinton administration when Mr. Emanuel served in it, too. If a Chick-fil-A franchisee is a detestable bigot because his boss — a private-sector CEO — opposes gay marriage, what does that make Mr. Emanuel, whose boss opposed gay marriage as president of these United States?
Chick-fil-A’s senior executives say that they are guided by Christian principle in both their personal and their professional lives, and the chain’s franchises famously remain closed on Sundays, but the company also pronounces itself committed to treating people with “honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” Mr. Cathy’s own views are considerably more complex than his critics would have us believe: “We don’t claim to be a Christian business,” he said in the same interview. “Christ never died for a corporation.”
It is one thing for private citizens to stage a boycott of a company with associations that annoy them, though the gay lobby’s hysterical demands for absolute conformity to its agenda in all aspects of public life is both unseemly and childish. (The gay lobby is also wrong about the issue of marriage and should be opposed.) As bad as organized homosexuality’s bullying tactics can be, it is a far more serious thing when elected officials appropriate the instruments of government to punish those with whom they disagree. The analogue to the civil-rights movement is a defective one: Whatever indignities homosexuals have suffered in our history, they were not held as chattel slaves or systematically excluded from political and economic life in the way black Americans were, nor is homosexuality categorically comparable to race. Boston mayor Thomas Menino threatened to withhold a business license from Chick-fil-A until somebody reminded him that doing so would constitute an illegal abuse of official power, at which point he withdrew the threat but confirmed his simmering hostility.
Mayors Menino and Emanuel are not striking a blow for civil rights; they are exploring new ground in the abuse of political power. Their threats and posturing have been far more shameful than anything Chick-fil-A has undertaken, and their motives considerably less lofty.