(Adds details, quotes)
By David Beasley
ATLANTA Aug 1 Thousands of people across the
United States heeded the call of two former Republican U.S.
presidential candidates to eat at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday to
show support for the chain restaurant as it weathers criticism
for its president's public opposition to gay marriage.
Business was so brisk at some of the privately owned chain's
more than 1,600 locations that employees directed traffic in
parking lots, lines remained long well past the lunch hour, and
managers spoke of record sales.
"I don't believe in same-sex marriage. It's wrong," said
Patricia Shelton, 53, after visiting a Chick-fil-A in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a state where voters approved a
constitutional ban on gay marriage earlier this year.
"We've got to take a stand," Shelton said.
Chick-fil-A, known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle
fries and for being closed on Sundays, came under fire after its
president, Dan Cathy, told an online religious newspaper that he
supports "the biblical definition of the family unit" and that
supporters of gay marriage were "arrogant".
Conservative former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee
and Rick Santorum said those who agreed with Cathy should send a
message about "traditional values" by eating a meal on what they
dubbed "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
Gay marriage supporters have pushed for a boycott of the
chain and are seeking to block new Chick-fil-A outlets from
opening. The mayors of Chicago and Boston have spoken out
against the company, and same-sex couples around the country
plan a kiss-in at Chick-fil-A restaurants on Friday.
While some patrons said they visited the chain on Wednesday
simply because they like the food, others at busier-than-usual
locations from suburban Philadelphia to cities across the
Southeast said they came to support Cathy's stance and his right
to voice it.
"We're Bible-believing Christians," said Bethany Hill, 35,
at a Chick-fil-A in Trevose, Pennsylvania. "We're thankful that
he decided to stand up."
"You should have the right to say your opinion without being
penalized," said Lillian Somers, 78, at a Chick-fil-A in
Birmingham, Alabama. "I am tired of people trying to force their
beliefs on me and people being blasted for Christian beliefs."
The general manager of New Hampshire's only Chick-fil-A
franchise reacted to the controversy by becoming a sponsor of
the state's gay pride festival slated for Aug. 11.
The restaurant in a Nashua shopping mall "has gay employees
and serves gay customers with honor, dignity and respect,"
general manager Anthony Picolia said in a statement released by
the organizers of New Hampshire Pride Fest.
"I would challenge people to come have a conversation with
me before they make assumptions or boycott my restaurant," he
In Chick-fil-A's corporate hometown of Atlanta, 42-year-old
government worker Hackwin Devoe said he "does not find Biblical
support" for gay marriage but does not oppose it.
He said one of the things that makes the United States a
great nation is that Americans respect one another for their
For him, the quality of Chick-fil-A's product outweighs its
"As long as the service and quality of the food continues
to be good, I'm fine with that," said Devoe.
(Additional reporting by Jason McLure, Dave Warner and Verna
Gates; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Paul Thomasch,
Will Dunham and Andrew Hay)