Christine Quinn may be the most powerful woman you've never heard of.
Currently, Quinn is the speaker of New York City's raucous city council, and widely considered the frontrunner in next year's race to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor.
Already, she's considered one of the most powerful openly lesbian politicians in not just New York City, but the entire country. And the current fracas over Chick-fil-A's endorsement of traditional, heterosexual marriage could extend her influence.
At least, that's her hope.
Born in New York's suburbs 46 years ago, Quinn has parlayed a humble bachelors degree into a celebrated public policy career in a city where Ivy League post-graduate diplomas line walls like wallpaper. That's no small feat. A long-time advocate for fair and low-cost housing, as well as a champion for gay rights, she's payed her dues both inside and outside the city's rough-and-tumble council chambers, managing campaigns and chairing task forces in a political environment with stakes higher than those in many statehouses across America.
Last week, in the wake of irrational refusals by the mayors of Boston and Chicago to welcome Chick-fil-A in their cities, New York's far more prominent and influential mayor sounded like a rare voice of municipal reason when he said Chick-fil-A's leadership has a right to their own opinions. Even though he personally is pro-gay-marriage, Bloomberg considers the fact that Chick-fil-A sponsors pro-hetero-marriage efforts more an exercise in First Amendment rights than a mark against its legitimacy as a business.
Whether out of anger at Bloomberg or simply to burnish her political credentials, Quinn on Saturday announced the creation of an online petition to kick the city's sole Chick-fil-A restaurant out. Granted, the petition does not explicitly call for Chick-fil-A to high-tail itself out of Gotham. Instead, it wants the company's CEO, Dan Cathy, to "apologize and change his position."
So much for tolerance, what Quinn and Change.org, the sponsors of her petition, claim to be pursuing.
Picking Battles, Indeed
The city's Chick-fil-A outlet is located in a food court for students at New York University, in the famously liberal neighborhood of Greenwich Village, no less. And it's run by Aramark, the international foodservice company, which operates food courts in everything from airports to shopping malls. So, in essence, Quinn is saying that Aramark, not just Chick-fil-A, needs to be run out of town as well.
But Quinn knows she can't say that. She may be a left-wing liberal, but she still has to win a city-wide election in what, despite all of its problems, is still the business capital of the world.
Indeed, none other than Quinn's dear friend, the legendary feminist Gloria Steinem, is currently locking horns with Quinn over economics. Steinem, along with some other famous New York liberals, are pushing for Quinn to allow a council vote forcing companies doing business in the city to pay for sick leave for their employees. As proposed, Steinem's pet bill would require businesses to give from five to nine sick days per year to each employee, depending on how many employees they have.
Yet Quinn, who up until now has met few anti-business bills she didn't love, is taking a crash-course in what is making the Big Apple increasingly less attractive to corporate America. Corporate flight from Manhattan has pretty much ground to a halt after their mass exodus of the seventies, eighties, and nineties, but faithful corporate citizens, from behemoth Wall Street banks to silk stocking law firms, are sending thousands of back-office jobs to the suburbs, the south, or overseas. Remarkably, the city's population continues to grow, but at the painful expense of its working middle class: mostly poor immigrants and wealthy idealists comprise the bulk of newcomers, as native New York blacks and retiree whites flee southward.
Quinn knows that her adopted city will tolerate many things the rest of America would not, but making the place even more onerous for business will win her little when it comes to campaign contributions from the capitalists who've always tried to give City Hall the benefit of the doubt. So perhaps her brash stance against Chick-fil-A will help ameliorate her decision on paid sick leave among her left-wing supporters, if she can also convince her corporate benefactors that she's not really sending an anti-capitalist and anti-constitution message with it.
Cluck, Cluck, Cluck
The problem is, Quinn is blatantly doing the very thing many right-wing conservatives have been accusing the homosexual lobby of doing for years: she's making homosexuality the litmus test for civilization's social agenda. Quinn has trotted out the increasingly hollow claim that anyone's ethics outside the realm of the gay agenda are evil; she alleges that Chick-fil-A's Cathy engages in "homophobia" when advocating for traditional marriage.
But. That. Is. Not. True.
Homophobia can be described as a "hatred or fear of homosexuals." The term "homophobia" does not describe the religious teachings endorsing heterosexuality - common among all major world religions - that many gay advocates want instead to claim as its definition. In other words, being pro-hetero-marriage is not, in itself, being homophobic. Think of it this way: homophobes can be pro-hetero-marriage, but then again, some pro-gay-marriage folks can be downright antagonistic towards those of us who don't share their view. Of course, Quinn isn't the first person to use the word "homophobia" incorrectly, but for somebody as prominent as her to do so simply marginalizes her credibility to a broader audience than New York's.
As a self-professed moderate Republican, I chide my uber-right-leaning conservative brethren that in order for us to work for positive change in the United States, we need to be far less condescending to people with differing viewpoints. After all, politics is all about compromise, even if many partisan politicos abhor the "C" word.
In her rash position against Chick-fil-A, Quinn is doing the same thing many hawkish right-wingers do. Her insistence on enshrining gay marriage has about as much credibility to conservatives as expecting liberals to suspect that President Obama isn't an American citizen by birth. Quinn herself admits that there's little she or anybody else can do to prevent Chick-fil-A from remaining at NYU, or indeed, opening more restaurants in the Big Apple, as long as they don't discriminate. Which kinda flies in the face of her whole argument, as it does the mayors of Boston and Chicago, especially since even a student review of Chick-fil-A at NYU has already vetted the company's operating policies.
Doesn't this make Quinn's position more malicious than necessary?
A couple of years ago, as Quinn's star continued to rise in Manhattan, her only credible opposition for mayor came from a skinny Jewish congressman, an expectant father nobody outside of New York City had ever heard of. One explosive sexting scandal later, though, and the disgraced Anthony Weiner was out of office. Recently, he's been making noises about entering the mayor's race, but he's likely going nowhere politically for a while.
Meanwhile, Quinn married her lover this past spring, and the two were featured in a glowing New York Times article as they entertained extended family at their summer home by the Jersey shore.
Obviously, Quinn is banking on voters appreciating the contrast: an upstanding, spouse-affirming, family-doting civic servant opposite of Weiner's promiscuous double-standards. Except Quinn is married to another woman. And apparently, she's desperate for that contrivance to be acceptable in mainstream society. Like other urban sophisticates, she tries to cloak her advocacy of gay marriage in a panoply of vainglorious cosmopolitan androgyny.
Yet isn't this a battle people like Quinn fight on the basis of exclusion, the very thing they accuse people like Chick-fil-A's Cathy of perpetrating on them? The difference is that true followers of Christ are called to love people like Quinn, regardless of their sexual orientation, or how blatantly they seek to subvert them and their companies.
All of us evangelicals need to measure our responses to people like
Quinn on the basis of Christ's expectations of us, not what gets
political rabble-rousers the most attention. Obviously, loving our
enemies doesn't mean we don't have enemies. However, to the extent that we let love for God's truth - instead of the "homophobia" of which we get accused - dictate our actions and responses to society's struggles, the disdain people like Quinn show for us is actually disdain for God.
Quinn may be posturing for a run at New York's iconic Gracie Mansion,* but if that's the only mansion in her future, you can kinda sympathize with her desperation.
* Gracie Mansion is the official residence for mayors of New York City