HOUSTON—People around the country flocked Wednesday to Chick-fil-A restaurants as part of an "appreciation day" in the midst of a national controversy.
Air 11 flew over a store location in northwest Houston off Highway 290 where more than 100 supporters wrapped around the restaurant at lunchtime. Supporters and protesters were spotted at other area Chick-fil-A locations, too.
Conservative leaders -- including former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and the National Organization for Marriage -- encouraged followers to show up at the fast-food eatery to support the company after it recently came under fire from gay-rights groups.
Chick-fil-A has always made it known it is a faith-based company, even closing to customers and employees every Sunday. But the controversy started when the president of the company was asked about Chick-fil-A’s support of traditional Christian marriage ministries.
President Dan Cathy responded that his company was "guilty as charged" when it comes to its support of what he called the biblical definition of marriage.
"We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that," Cathy told The Baptist Press. "We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that."
"We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles," Cathy added.
Several gay rights groups soon called for a boycott, and some mayors in large cities like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia said the chain would not be welcome in their community due to the company’s "intolerance."
That led conservative groups to declare Aug. 1 as "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," calling on people to express their opinions and support with their wallets.
Some people KHOU 11 News spoke with at one local restaurant Wednesday said they support the company on this issue, but many others said they go just for the good chicken.
"A business has a right to make their own decisions, and I think people just have gone overboard with it," one customer said as she waited in the drive through lane. "Whether or not I agree—it’s like Michael Bloomberg in New York City—it’s gone overboard, and people need to step up and say ‘it’s a business, let them run their business.’"
"It’s not necessarily to support the business for its stance, it’s just to support the business," said another customer. "They can have an opinion like anybody else. They’re not forcing it on anybody."
"I just like Chick-fil-A, I just like the chicken," said a third customer in the drive through lane.
A small portion of the crowds went out to Chick-fil-A not to eat, but to protest.
"Whether we are outnumbered, or opinion is certainly in the minority. I think it’s an important American value to be able to stand by that opinion," same-sex marriage supporter Becky Delacruz said.
Delacruz was one of a group of same-sex marriage supporters who gathered with signs outside of the restaurant on 290 Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, a gay rights group is planning a protest of its own. It’s asking same sex couples to go their local Chick-fil-A and kiss inside the restaurant.
We asked the KHOU 11 News Facebook fans for their thoughts on the issue.
"Not a penny I earn will go to a company that will turn around and use it to promote hate," wrote Jeana.
"Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Enjoy your right as an American to have one," wrote Zuriel.
After Cathy’s original comments to The Baptist Press, the company issued a statement saying that while they intend to continue to apply "biblically-based principles" to their business, their intent going forward is "to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
After that statement, which was released on July 19, the company and its franchise owners have remained quiet on the issue. But if the daily lunchtime rush is any indication of Chick-fil-A’s revenue in the Houston area, it does not appear the controversy is hurting business.