Chick-fil-A supporters send message, eat chicken

Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country were packed with supporters Wednesday for 'Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.' In the wake of CEO Dan Cathy's views against gay marriage, and the subsequent boycott from gay-rights advocates, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich has become a polarizing political statement.

Mike Haskey/The Ledger-Enqirer/AP
Customers stand in a long line at the Chick-fil-A in Columbus, Ga., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. Chick-fil-A supporters are eating at restaurants in the chicken chain as the company continues to be criticized for an executive's comments about gay marriage.

Around 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jesse Velasco, a Jacksonville Beach, Fla. resident, pulled into a Chick-fil-A restaurant to grab lunch. He had no idea it was “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” 

“When I got there, I noticed that the end of the drive-thru line was ridiculously far away from the restaurant,” he says. “There must have been 40 or 50 cars going through the driveway line and past the Arby’s next to it. I felt bad for the Arby’s,” he laughs.

Deciding it would be easier if he went inside, Mr. Velasco (who is also my younger brother) circled for five minutes to find a parking space, then faced the back of a line that snaked at least 10 people out the door. Then he remembered seeing on Facebook that there was “something going on with Chick-fil-A today."

“Chick-fil-A is a madhouse right now," he wrote later on Facebook.

Similar scenes played themselves out at Chick-fil-A locations around the country Wednesday, as throngs of people turned out to support the chicken franchise as part of Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” The Aug. 1 event was organized by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and Fox News TV host, in response to a boycott of Chick-fil-A by supporters of gay marriage.

In the past several weeks, the fast-food chain found mostly in the Southeast has found itself in the middle of a national firestorm in the wake of CEO Dan Cathy’s controversial comments against gay marriage. Last month, Mr. Cathy appeared on Ken Coleman’s radio show and said “We’re 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.’ And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

Cathy later defended his comments to the Baptist Press newspaper, saying he was “guilty as charged” of defending traditional marriage values.

In addition to Cathy’s comments, boycotters have taken issue with Chick-fil-A’s charitable contributions to groups that oppose gay rights (including mostly religious organizations like Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes).

The Aug. 1 appreciation day was an attempt to counter those actions with a demonstration of support.

“Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we're considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant,” Mr. Huckabee wrote in a statement on his website. “There's no need for anyone to be angry or engage in a verbal battle. Simply affirm appreciation for a company run by Christian principles by showing up or participating online.”

The response has been overwhelming, both from those who agree with the company’s views and people who see it as a defense of free speech and the right to do business. Conservative leaders, including onetime presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick, have shown their support, as has the conservative Super PAC Citizens United. Some 633,000 Facebook users pledged to attend the event, and Chick-fil-A has dominated Twitter throughout the day.

“If you believe that Christians should be able to express a biblical world view w/out fear of reprisal or demonization eat at  #ChickFilA 2day,” tweeted Mark A. Moore Sr., under the Twitter handle @BishopMMoore. “Truly awesome to see all the Americans lining up today to support our core values & say no to the leftist attacks on our heritage #chickfila,” tweeted @ProudAmerican82.

The other side, though, may just be getting warmed up. In addition to the boycott, and declarations of nonsupport by left wing political leaders like Rahm Emmanuel and Boston mayor Thomas Menino (who added fuel to the First Amendment fire by suggesting that Chick fil-A was no longer welcome in his city), Chick-fil-A has been dropped by the Muppets. The Jim Henson Company ended its ties with the restaurant in the wake of the controversy and donated the money it received from the partnership to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). And gay rights advocates are planning a counter protest for Friday called “Kiss Mor Chiks,” encouraging same sex-couples to go to the chain’s restaurants and kiss each other.

Chick-Fil-A, meanwhile, is trying to stay out of it. “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” the company said in a press release soon after the controversy began. “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

The company also downplayed Wednesday's huge show of support: “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not created by Chick-fil-A,” Executive Vice President Steve Robinson wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time.”

The company wouldn’t say if the spiked interest in the company had helped sales. “As a privately held company, Chick-fil-A does not comment publicly about our sales figures,” company spokesperson Hannah Wagner wrote via e-mail.

Meanwhile, down in Jacksonville Beach, my brother waited 15 minutes in line for his chicken sandwich. When members of our family get hungry for something specific, it’s hard to convince us otherwise. “I don’t agree with them, but I feel like it’s food, and it’s good food, so I’m going to eat it regardless,” he says.

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