Why Denver Lawmakers Are Reluctant To Approve An Airport Chick-Fil-A

Kim Harrell, left, kisses her partner of five years, Paula Tyer during the protest of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Pompano Beach, Fla., Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J PAT CARTER
Kim Harrell, left, kisses her partner of five years, Paula Tyer during the protest of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Pompano Beach, Fla., Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J PAT CARTER

The Denver city council is ruffling some feathers for its reluctance to allow Chick-fil-A to open a restaurant at the Denver International Airport, due to the chicken chain’s stance against marriage equality.

On Tuesday, the council’s Business Development Committee voted to delay consideration of a seven-year deal between the airport and a new Chick-fil-A franchisee. Robin Kniech — the council’s first openly gay member — told the Denver Post that she was hesitant to approve a company that has used “corporate profits … to fund and fuel discrimination.” Back in 2012, the company gave money to anti-LGBT groups, a practice which it has since mostly stopped.

Conservatives and liberals alike have expressed outrage over the delay. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum argued that the political leanings of a large company’s CEO should not affect these types of decisions if that company is following the law. “If the Denver City Council were giving a popular fast-food outlet a hard time because its CEO contributed to Planned Parenthood four years ago, we’d be outraged — and rightly so,” he wrote. “I don’t blame conservatives for being equally outraged about this.” In addition, the deal with the airport has the potential to bring a great deal of money to the city — about $616,000 a year in fees.

So why, then, is this happening? Denver is certainly a liberal city, but it’s not the most liberal. Researchers from MIT and UCLA ranked Denver as only the 20th most liberal city in America. Pittsburgh, Austin, and Buffalo are all more liberal than Denver, according to the research.


But while it may not be the most liberal city overall, Denver consistently ranks high on indexes of gay-friendly cities. For instance, when the Human Rights Campaign graded different cities on the friendliness of their laws and policies for LGBT individuals, Denver scored 97 out of 100 points. Denver’s government, the organization found, had a near-perfect record on non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipal employment practices, city services, law enforcement, and municipal leadership. Vocativ ranked Denver as the ninth most LGBT-friendly city in America, with the fourth most LGBT-friendly businesses per capita.

At the same time, marriage equality is the one thing that’s historically been a sore subject for Denver, and Colorado in general. It wasn’t until late 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear appeals from states seeking to ban gay marriage, that same-sex marriage became legal in the state. Until then, Republican Attorney General John Suthers had been defending the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality.

So marriage equality itself is less than a year old in Denver, which may be one of the reasons the city council is so sensitive to approve a business with a history of opposing it. Though Chick-Fil-A has eliminated nearly all its charitable giving to anti-LGBT groups, its owners still vocally oppose same-sex marriage.

After such a long fight for marriage equality in the city, that opposition means something to constituents, according to the Denver city council.

“Gay and lesbian families have been fighting for decades for full recognition of their relationships,” a statement from the council read. “Denver has been at the forefront of honoring gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees and their families with non-discrimination clauses and partner benefits for many of these decades.”


“These are long standing values Denver has held,” it continued. “When Denver International Airport proposed a concession with a company that had a history of funding opposition to this recognition, it was important that we as a City Council take a pause to ensure that all the policies are in place with all of the entities involved to ensure there will be no discrimination, and that benefits will be provided equally to all employees and their spouses, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Tuesday’s decision by the Denver city council has delayed consideration of the Denver Airport lease for two weeks. What will happen then is anyone’s guess.