Amidst all the clucking, civil unions are the path

Charles Naulty (left) and Dennis Heffernan chat Wednesday outside the Chick-fil-A on Columbus Boulevard. STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Charles Naulty (left) and Dennis Heffernan chat Wednesday outside the Chick-fil-A on Columbus Boulevard. STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Posted: August 03, 2012

When I got to the Chick-fil-A on Columbus Boulevard above Oregon Avenue on Wednesday, I couldn't tell if the "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" called for by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was a success in South Philly.

The chicken chain is the newest Ground Zero in the culture wars, this time over same-sex marriage. By the end of the day, it was reported that people had flocked to the chicken chain, creating its best day ever. Supporters of gay marriage plan to demonstrate Friday.

Before noon in South Philly, the line stretched from the front counter right to the door, but I didn't know if that was normal. Owner-operator John Hincken, a pleasant man in a yellow shirt, clearly wanted to fly away from the controversy generated by company CEO Dan Cathy's remarks opposing gay marriage.

A lot of people didn't like what he said, mostly gays and progressives. What ticked off even more people ( including some gays and progressives) was crowing by the mayors of Boston and Chicago that they wanted to ban the chain in their bastions of tolerance, equality and diversity (except when it comes to the views of conservative Americans).

It was mostly conservative Americans who swarmed Chick-fil-As on Wednesday.

Dennis Heffernan and Charles Naulty, seated on a utility box outside the South Philly shop, were drawn by the controversy. A onetime boxer who's a little pugnacious, Heffernan was wearing a white T-shirt with red hand lettering on the front: "I am a straight American."

Why? He says many gays wear paraphernalia announcing their orientation, so, in your face, "I want to tell people what I am."

Naulty was there "to uphold Christianity." They both deny hating gays.

"I don't hate them. I pray for them," Heffernan says, adding, "There's no such thing as a gay gene. Something happens to you."

Dom Giordano disagrees. The WPHT/1210-AM morning host went to the Chick-fil-A in his native South Philly to be pro-business, not anti-gay.

Gays don't choose homosexuality, Giordano says. He endorses — surprise? — civil union equal to marriage in all respects, because "logic demands it." What steams him is this: "If you don't agree with every facet of the gay agenda," the activists "say you are a hater."

This broiling controversy has many feathers. To touch on a few:

We all say we believe in free speech, but too many of us chicken out when we hear words that contradict our own views and fall back on invective, such as "hater," "racist," "homophobe," "socialist," "communist."

Gay supporters point to Cathy's financial support for what they call "anti-gay" groups, rather than just his comments, as cause to boycott his business. They say it's his actions, not just his words. But words set off the furor.

Most rational people agree that the mayors of Chicago and Boston were bonkers in threatening Chick-fil-A. Consequences ought to come from customers letting their bucks do the talking, not tyrannical bureaucrats. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal criticized the (likely illegal) threats by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to ban Chick-fil-A.

A majority of Americans still oppose gay marriage — which has failed every time it has been put to voters — but the majority is shrinking.

Giordano's audience is mostly conservative. "Ten years ago, I'd be killed for favoring civil unions; now it's OK," he says. Times are changing faster than anyone could have predicted.

Social change usually waddles in slowly, because it's not wise to tear down a wall before you know why it was constructed. "Marriage," the M word, is a third rail for traditionalists who fear tearing down the societal norm of one man and one woman.

This isn't the Olympics. Pushing harder won't win them over faster. If gays accept "civil-union same as marriage," they rob their opponents of their most powerful weapon, the M-word.

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: philly.com/Byko.

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