In my early 20s, I was pro-choice and opposed to gay marriage. Today, in my 30s, I am now pro-life and more supportive of gay marriage. Over the course of our lives, sometimes our views change. The important thing is that we are free to have views and the liberty to voice them.

When Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy publicly denounced gay marriage in religious terms, the mayors of two major American cities let everyone know that the fast food restaurant was not welcome in their respective cities. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino threatened to block the construction of a new Chick-fil-A. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made similar statements, echoing the sentiments of local government officials.

Even many of those outraged by Cathy’s comments would agree that he was simply expressing his free speech rights. But some thought these mayors were also expressing their free speech rights. They were not. What they were attempting to do is the antithesis of free speech.

Individuals who are offended by Cathy’s comments are free to avoid Chick-fil-A. They are free to speak out against Chick-Fil-A. This is their right. This is how America’s system of government is supposed to work. This is how the First Amendment works. This is how free markets are supposed to work. But for the government to prevent someone from operating a business based on their personal or political opinions — this is a direct violation of free speech. It is certainly anti-free market.

Imagine that a Muslim man owns a convenience store. Now imagine that he too, like Dan Cathy, has some rather unfavorable views on homosexuality. This is not particularly hard to imagine. In fact, his opinion of gay rights might be even harsher. Does anyone think this man’s local government should prevent him from selling Doritos and cigarettes because of his views?

Imagine that a gay man opens a store in a small Southern town. Now imagine that the local government attempts to shut down his business simply because he is homosexual. This would be tragically wrong and un-American. Imagine this same store owner publicly expressing pride in his sexuality. Does anyone — even the most conservative Christian — believe the government should be able to take away his right to do business for expressing his opinion? I know few if any conservative Christians who would think this proper. However, after Dan Cathy made his comments, I discovered countless liberals who had no problem whatsoever doing the same thing to Chick-fil-A. These liberals who are trying to make Dan Cathy out to be some sort of fascist need to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

But there have been sane liberals on this issue. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly denounced those who want to prevent Chick-fil-A from doing business. One of the more lucid voices on the Left during this controversy was Mother Jones‘ Adam Serwer, who wrote: “Blocking construction of Chick-fil-A restaurants over Cathy’s views is a violation of Cathy’s First Amendment rights. Boston and Chicago have no more right to stop construction of Chick-fil-As based on an executive’s anti-gay views than New York City would have had the right to block construction of an Islamic community center blocks away from Ground Zero. The government blocking a business from opening based on the owner’s political views is a clear threat to everyone’s freedom of speech — being unpopular doesn’t mean you don’t have rights. It’s only by protecting the rights of those whose views we find odious that we can hope to secure them for ourselves.”

I somewhat agree with Dan Cathy’s controversial statement. In a Christian sense, I personally find gay marriage to be absurd. But the gay marriage debate in the United States is not primarily religious. It is a legal debate. If a same-sex couple wishes to enjoy the same legal advantages that heterosexual married couples are afforded by their governments, it seems unjust to deny them this. What makes us equal in the eyes of God is beyond our control. What makes us equal before the law is not.

Many Americans disagree with me on this. The current state law of Illinois differs with me on this, and until a few months ago, the president of the United States disagreed with me on this. That’s fine. In this country we are free to debate such subjects.

And we are free to debate them without fear of government persecution. An American selling chicken sandwiches is free to say anything he likes. We are also free to say anything we like about what he says. But no government should be able to dictate what any of us are allowed to say.

Jack Hunter assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his latest book, Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse. He is also the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz on 1250 WTMA.