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What I’m going to call the “Chick-Fil-A Moment” — an opportunity to educate the public about gay rights generally, and gay marriage specifically — arose out of an interview in which the CEO of Chick-Fil-A had this, among many other things, to say:

“As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

Combine that statement with the fact that, as the New York Times has reported:

Equality Matters, an online investigative organization dedicated to gay and lesbian issues, last year obtained tax records that showed that the company’s operators, its WinShape Foundation and the Cathy family had given millions of dollars to groups whose work includes defeating same-sex marriage initiatives and providing therapy intended to change people’s sexual orientation.

So yeah. This was supposed to be easy. The obvious response to the ridiculousness above is the following position:

I don’t eat at Chick-Fil-A, because my money will eventually be used to fund activist groups who fight my personal rights, and who practice dangerous psychological interventions on troubled adolescents.  If you support human rights, I would ask you to consider not eating at Chick-Fil-A yourself.

Where it went shit-shaped was when the grandstanding politicians stepped in and tried to turn this into a story about themselves. No, I’m not talking about Huckabee (not at this particular moment anyway). I’m talking about Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston, and any number of other liberal mayors who have followed his lead in sending out bloviated broadsides warning Chick-Fil-A to stay out of their towns.

Suddenly, the conversation is no longer about how Chick-Fil-A uses its money to harm gays. It’s about the “intolerance of liberals,” a favorite theme and ongoing narrative on the radio right.

And you know what? They’ve got a point.

They would have a better point if those mayors had the power to back up their rhetoric. But they do not. Boston has not actually banned Chick-Fil-A over its gay rights stance, and the mayor has admitted that he cannot. These mayors have sent off what amounts to a sniping blog post in letter form. They have no more of the government’s weight behind them than this little screed you’re reading right now. But no matter: the damage has been done.

I guess Menino and the others just wanted to grab a little taste of the national headlines for a second, and maybe lock up their support among their own local gays and lesbians — an affluent, organized, and vocal voting bloc in most of the cities in question.

They have ruined one of the best opportunities to educate the public about gay rights that we’ve had in a generation. Because we had a simple message. And we always win when our message is simple. And we always lose when the other side has a complicated and paranoid one.

Looking at the last twenty-four hours of the news cycle, I’d say we lost this one. Not because we weren’t right about what really mattered, but because we gave them an opening to talk about something that doesn’t.

Thanks a lot, grandstanding mayors.

Here’s a great post on the issues that really matter.