Recently, Chik-Fil-A has made headlines as the owners have confirmed their homophobia by publicly announcing their support for preventing same-sex couples from having equal rights to the benefits of marriage. It is no coincidence that this is the same company that has been vociferous in its support for the torturous factory farming practices used to make its products. The belief that animals are not worthy of justice and compassion leads directly to the belief that people who are different from us are not worthy of justice and compassion.
In a very real sense, we practice our moral and ethical muscles on animals. The link between animal abuse and serial killers has been well established. Serial killers often start out practicing on animals, and through this they learn to develop a calculated and cold-hearted response to the terror, pain and suffering in front of them. Thankfully, those that go to the extreme of serial killers are rare, but animals still represent the "test" case. For many of us, this means extending our circle of compassion by constantly asking ourselves how we can do better. For many others though, this means sitting down to a meal and kicking into gear a process of rationalization to explain to ourselves why the torture of the factory farm and slaughterhouse is absolutely necessary to satisfy what is a mere preference.
Is it any mystery then, that Dan Cathy, after years of justifying the torture that takes place on the factory farms that supply his business, has no problem looking at people who are different from him and simply dismissing the suffering caused by the denial of equal rights? Keep in mind, I am not equating human and animal suffering here. The way humans and animals suffer varies in both qualitative and quantitative ways. What I am saying is that the mechanism that allows a person to ignore the suffering of animals and to deny them justice is the very same mechanism that allows them to ignore the suffering of other people and deny them justice.
I think it would be interesting to do a study to confirm this hypothesis, but my impression from traveling to many different parts of the United States is that those places that are the most unconcerned about cruelty to animals are also the most likely to want to deny equal rights to their fellow human beings.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)