Only in America: Chick-a-Debate

2012-08-01

Chicken in Missoula, Montana

How do you explain the Chick-fil-A row to someone outside the United States? Most people would assume that a public uproar involving chicken and sex must be about a case of bestiality or worse. They would be rather puzzled by the tenuous link between chicken consumption and a political issue that they may find far from earth-shattering.

Such is the nature of cultural differences – they are not as much about opposing opinions, as they are about the lack of understanding between one who is deeply passionate about an issue and another one who couldn’t care less.

For many reasons, it’s hard to imagine something like the Chick-fil-A controversy happening in a country like Germany.

To start with, religion is very much a private issue in Germany. People rarely discuss their personal beliefs outside an ecclesiastic setting or among personal friends, if at all. In a public setting, in business or in politics, people might act upon the values that they derive from their belief, but they would hardly resort to a religious argument to make their point.

And even if people would talk about their personal beliefs, they would hardly make pronouncements regarding the entire society like this one:

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. […] I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude […]

It’s hard to say what would happen in Germany if the president of a major corporation would go public with such a statement. But it would certainly not lead to the kind of commotion that would have a national news outlet create a special section “Complete coverage on Chick-fil-A debate”.

Much more likely, the executive in question would be considered a bit eccentric – for trying to make a political argument using religion, and then for trying to throw the weight of his company behind it. The latter, by the way, might well cost him his job if he were at the helm of a public company. Advertising his fear of God’s judgment over a political issue might be seen as a lack of business judgment that shareholders and customers would not appreciate.

And even minus the religious overtones, the issue of gay marriage would not arouse the masses in Germany. Homosexuality, like religion, seems more of a private issue, or rather, a non-issue. One acknowledges its existence, but it is not subjected to public debate.

For example, German’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, lives openly in a homosexual partnership. It’s a fact that’s neither hidden nor advertised. When he was appointed foreign minister – after long having been an outspoken and prominent politician – I don’t think anybody even mentioned his sexual orientation, neither favorably nor unfavorably, just as little as anyone would discuss the family life of any other public official.

Germany has a law establishing civil unions. There have been discussions about the scope of that law, which initially did not award civil unions the same range of benefits as a married couple. Just today, Germany’s Constitutional Court has ordered the government in yet another case to provide a more equal footing between marriages and civil unions.

As far as I can recall, those discussions centered on differences in substance, not on terminology. In fact, the terminology is used rather loosely in German. Civil unions go by the unwieldy legal term eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaft, which in colloquial or media use is often shortened to Homo-Ehe, or “homo-marriage”.

It is hard to understand for (usually dogmatic) Germans why the (usually pragmatic) Americans are so dogmatic about labels in this case.

That’s not to say that Germany is the most tolerant of societies. It certainly is not, and homosexuals may still find themselves subject to stigma or ridicule. But homosexuality is not generally considered a moral issue – much different than in the U. S.

And even if it was, one thing would never happen in Germany: people lining up for fast-food sandwiches in order to make a moral point. German chickens, or the devouring thereof, seem to lack the gravitas for such a lofty purpose.

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