Chick-fil-A Gay Marriage Flap Highlights Hollywood's Place in Culture Wars

9:28 AM PST 07/28/2012 by Jordan Zakarin

When the President of the chicken sandwich chain declared his company "guilty as charged" in its support for anti-equality causes, celebrities and politicians were quick to speak out.

America: a country so divided, the non-profit donations of a regional fried chicken restaurant erupts into a week's worth of debate and headlines.

Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy was giving an interview for a small religious publication when he said that his company operated on "Christian values," and was "guilty as charged" when it came to its involvement in non-profits that actively oppose marriage equality. It wasn't a surprise -- the entire chain closes on Sundays to observe the sabbath -- but once the comments bubbled up to the top of the internet headline mill, it became the latest front in what is this generation's biggest civil rights battle.

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Hollywood has long been active in the fight to legalize gay marriage; from putting gay couples front and center on network television -- see: Modern Family, Glee, and this fall's The New Normal -- to dramatizing the politics (Dustin Lance Black's Oscar-winning film Milk, and his play, 8), it is the issue about which, in the years after America invaded Iraq, the creative community has been vocal.

The reaction to Cathy's statements came fast and furious, first on Twitter. Ed Helms wrote, "Chick-Fil-A doesn’t like gay people? So lame. Hate to think what they do to the gay chickens! Lost a loyal fan," while blogger Perez Hilton added, "I heard #ChickFilA gives you diarrhea! I wouldn’t know. I don’t support those homophobes. I prefer some El Pollo Loco realness!"

Mia Farrow, for her part, has tweeted op-ed links about the issue, while Conan O'Brien has skewered the chain on his show, introducing a new mascot: Chaz the Intolerant Chicken. The Jim Henson Company went even further, publicly rebuking Chick-fil-A, promising they would no longer with them and that they'd donate the profit from their kids' meal partnership to GLAAD.

Hollywood has been joined by several politicians, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, who have promised to do their best to keep the chain out of their cities.

The flipside is a predictable one. Just as conservative media has worked to frame Hollywood as a liberal bastion out of touch with heartland America, right-wing politicians and activists have emerged to support Chick-fil-A. Former Arkansas governor and now radio host Mike Huckabee has called for a mass celebration of the restaurant on August 1st, which has since earned the backing of former Pennsylvania senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and the Rev. Billy Graham.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin posted a photo of herself and husband Todd at a Chick-fil-A late Friday night, writing, "Stopped by Chick-fil-A in The Woodlands to support a great business."

In response, Danny Zuker, the Emmy-winning co-executive producer of Modern Family, tweeted, "Your grandson said 'fag' on TV but I'm sure there's no connection."

When President Obama announced his support for gay marriage earlier this summer, it came right before a major fundraiser in Hollywood; his proclamation was greeted with great glee by the industry, and he has relied heavily on its contributions. Whether the issue of Chick-fil-A's stance reaches the Oval Office remains to be seen, but don't be surprised if the great sandwich culture war plays a role in the presidential election. At least for a week's news cycle, anyway.

Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin

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