Customers may shop, of course, wherever they wish and make their purchases based on the store or restaurant’s prices, practices, products or the owner’s beliefs. And if business owners want to use their positions of power to advocate for or against same-sex marriage, no one should stop them. We all enjoy the right of free speech.
Just as people have the right to speak out, they should be prepared for opponents to speak out against them. People or organizations have the right to boycott businesses because of their statements about a social issue.
We encourage people to look deeper, though, beyond what the heads of companies say or to what cause they donate. Put their words in the context of their larger operations and policies. If you’re considering no longer buying coffee at Starbucks, which supports same-sex marriage, or no longer buying chicken at Chick-Fil-A, which opposes same-sex marriage, it would be prudent to first answer some larger questions.
Are you trying to hurt a business only because of the owners’ beliefs? What if that business employs your neighbors? Businesses are made up of people in your community who have a variety of views, and your boycott may unintentionally affect people you didn’t mean to harm.
Take the example of T-Mobile. The National Organization for Marriage — a Washington, D.C.-based group that has given money to a Maine political action committee working to defeat the Nov. 6 ballot question to legalize same-sex marriage — has called for a boycott of T-Mobile in Washington state, where voters will decide whether to uphold a gay marriage law.
In case you were interested in canceling your contract and signing a petition to let T-Mobile know you don’t support the company’s efforts “to tell our society that moms and dads are interchangeable,” you might first consider that T-Mobile employs tens of thousands of people. T-Mobile is even planning to hire new full-time workers in Maine by the end of the year. Undoubtedly those workers hold views that differ from company leadership.
The same thought should be given to Chick-fil-A, whose CEO Dan Cathy unsurprisingly affirmed his company’s opposition to same-sex marriage in July. Gay-rights groups called for a boycott, and mayors in Boston and Chicago said the fast-food restaurant was not welcome in their cities. But, within a debate that finds broad acceptance on both sides of the argument, did they really want to prevent a business from expanding if it was able to do so? Don’t city officials have an obligation to apply development rules fairly and not discriminate against an owner based on his widely supported beliefs?
You don’t have to agree with someone’s political stance to understand that they have a right to express their views. But the expression of a company’s leader is only a part of the business’ operations. Spend your money where you wish; just make sure you understand the potential effect.