The psychology behind boycotting Chick-Fil-A: Is this a means of expressing tolerance or intolerance?

Last week, in a scandal that rocked the fast-food world, it became public that Don Cathy, president of Chick-Fil-A, the popular eatery specializing in chicken sandwiches, believes operating his business  “on biblical principles.” Moreover, current records reveal the corporation’s monetary and public support for organizations that specifically denounce gay marriage rights.

Stemming from various political platforms and the sweeping trend of individual states offering legalization on their ballots, the gay marriage debate represents a major American controversy. Within the past decade alone, we have seen a huge influx of support for marital equality rights. a stark contrast from the opposition seen just half a century ago.

Thus, the the huge backlash from online and media sources comes as no surprise. Facebook and Twitter pages are littered with Chick-Fil-A boycotting movements. Even politicians have joined the chaotic party. Former presidential candidate and Republican governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, declared August 1 as “National Chick-Fil-A Day” and former Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, made a promise “to stop at Chick-Fil-A on her way home.”

So, what’s the psychological dilemma here? Have we given a company’s moral beliefs, rather than quality of service, enough power to stream into our consciousness when making the simple decision regarding what to eat for lunch? It appears so. Those who support of gay marriage are enraged: many have vowed to halt all business in Chick-Fil-A.

Despite the red-hot popularity of this scandal, surely, the argument will cool down and diminish, leaving consumers with the ultimate decision of whether or not they want to support Chick-Fil-A in the future.   Interestingly, this company made no attempt to hide its moral beliefs; the information was publicly available for anyone who sought it. The media only recently decided to shine its spotlight on the controversy.

Still, most consumers are largely unaware of major company origins and owners’ religious/moral affiliations. Most will argue that it doesn’t matter, as long as the product at hand is of high quality.   Atheists who shop at Forever 21, for instance, should note that the owners are born-again Christians who claim “God told them to open the store.” Other mainstream companies with ethical controversy include Curves (owner donates to anti-abortion campaigns), Tyson Foods (has about 120 employed chaplains to provide pastoral support), and In-N-Out Burger (prints Bible verses on wrappers). Should pro-choice women stop working out at Curves? Should non-believers feel hypocritical eating a Double-Double from In-N-Out?

From a psychological perspective, boycotting Chick-Fil-A does seem like an appropriate reaction to take a stance against discrimination. Boycotts, indeed, embody powerful movements. Their intent is to deny the corporation customer business, and subsequently, demonstrate that they have made a wrong decision. Boycotting puts that decision on exhibit for the world to see. In the past, with regards to making civil right strides, these movements do appear to be somewhat successful. Strangely, the loss of money is not the main factor predicting success. The sudden transformation from a positive perspective on a corporation/business/etc. to a negative one can cause far more long-lasting damage. After all, restoring a destroyed reputation and earning back lost respect is much harder than recovering from a temporary income blow.

Those boycotting Chick-Fil-A establishments are voicing their refusal to support a company that does not believe in a right they believe in. In this case, it is gay marriage.

However, is this, in an ironic sense, intolerant? To be straight-forward, refraining from Chick-Fil-A solely based on their anti-gay stance, shows that the particular consumer does not wish to support a company that holds a different opinion from their own.

What about the thousands of Chick-Fil-A employees serving food who support gay marriage? Should we encourage them to quit their jobs? If a Chick-Fil-A employee is gay, is he/she being a hypocrite? More importantly, however, do we have the right to call him/her hypocritical? 

Tolerance stems from the notion of respecting everyone’s beliefs, even if they may differ from your own. Is one viewpoint enough to denounce an entire company for their so-called bigotry and intolerance? 

To play devil’s advocate, if we refuse to take a stance against Chick-Fil-A, are we simply just encouraging more intolerance? By purchasing food from this corporation, are we inadvertently supporting a company that does not support a cause many people now fiercely believe in? Would we be hypocritical to vote in support of gay marriage, while, at the same time, giving money to an organization that opposes it. The nature of this answer might be simpler if the company in question were a school or housing complex or extra-curricular club, but it’s not. It’s chicken sandwiches.

Where do we draw the line at differences? Surely, liberal consumers shopping at an establishment founded by conservative owners would disagree with some of the company polices and vice versa. Should anti-birth control advocates boycott a drugstore for selling condoms? Are vegetarians unethical for buying food at commercial supermarkets that have butchers?  Most would agree that doing so would be ridiculous, if not impossible. In reality, boycotting against corporations that we morally disagree with would ignite a countless, never-ending spew of boycotts. 

The answer to this controversy is not a conclusive one. Fortunately, consumers have the freedom to shop around and purchase whatever they please, either choosing to abide to moral ethics or disregard them completely. The president’s opinion aside, Chick-Fil-A does not hold a chicken sandwich monopoly; therefore, the choice to boycott this corporation is a personal one.