An alderman trying to block a Northwest Side Chick-fil-A restaurant because of the company president’s opposition to gay marriage found himself under fire Wednesday, but stood firm as the controversy swirled.
A Christian leader called 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno’s decision hypocritical. Constitutional scholars said it might not survive a First Amendment legal challenge. And some of Moreno’s City Council colleagues said they would welcome a Chick-fil-A restaurant — and its jobs — with open arms.
But Moreno said he’s fighting for civil rights, has legal grounds to block the Logan Square restaurant and is representing the views of the people who live in his Northwest Side ward.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, long a supporter of gay marriage, remains in Moreno’s corner, as does Alderman Daniel Solis, 25th, the Zoning Committee chairman whose support Moreno will need to make his decision stick.
As the story first reported by the Chicago Tribune spread across the Web and airwaves, Illinois Family Institute Executive Director David Smith said Moreno was “turning around and being intolerant and discriminatory because somebody has a different view than he does.”
Moreno shot right back. “The intolerance of an organization and then my lack of acceptance of that intolerance is not hypocrisy,” he told the Tribune. “That’s sophomoric thinking.”
Moreno called gay marriage the civil-rights issue “of our time,” saying he tried for months but could not convince the company to include language in its employee handbooks that barred discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered people.
A day earlier, Moreno said he would exercise his aldermanic privilege to block the company’s efforts to open a restaurant because of comments made last week by Dan Cathy, president and son of the founder of the family-owned fast-food chain.
Cathy was quoted July 16 in the Baptist Press as saying he was “guilty as charged” for supporting “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. We give God thanks for that.”
Chick-fil-A officials have not returned repeated calls and e-mails asking for comment.
If the council were to stick with tradition and follow Moreno’s lead in his own ward — and base its decision solely on Cathy’s statements — the city likely would not withstand a constitutional legal challenge on free-speech grounds, said Harold Krent, dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
“What a wonderful way to get political visibility and rally the troops, by coming out against Chick-fil-A or anyone else on those grounds, but it’s the same point that potentially undermines their legal position later,” he said.
But Krent also said that if the full council backed Moreno, citing other concerns such as the restaurant traffic issues that also were noted by Moreno, a city denial could hold up in court. That’s the route that Solis, the zoning panel chairman, suggested Moreno follow.
Alderman Howard Brookins said he likes the restaurant and would welcome it to the 21st Ward. “People’s personal beliefs, unless they are way out of bounds, should not go into the decision as to whether a company should come into a particular area,” Brookins said.
The only Chick-fil-A in Chicago is near the Magnificent Mile in the ward of Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd, who said that unless there’s evidence of discrimination, aldermen should just agree to disagree.
“If citizens find the corporations views distasteful, they can vote with their feet,” he said.
Emanuel stopped short of saying he would block Chick-fil-A from expanding in Chicago, but he made clear he’s with Moreno in spirit.
Cathy’s views “are discriminatory against people who are our neighbors and our residents. Those aren’t our values,” Emanuel said.