LITTLE ROCK — Chick-fil-A locations in Arkansas and across the country were swamped by supporters — and drew some protests — on Wednesday after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared the day “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in support of the company’s CEO’s comments in opposition to same sex marriage.
Dan Cathy, whose fast-food chain is closed on Sundays for religious reasons, said in a radio interview last month he believes “we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation” by permitting same-sex marriage. Pro-gay rights groups reacted by urging a boycott of the chain, and some mayors said Chick-fil-A was not welcome in their cities. The Jim Henson Company also cut ties with the company.
Huckabee, a Baptist minister, responded to the backlash by asking people to buy food at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday to show, as he wrote on his Facebook page, “appreciation … not only for the views of Dan Cathy, but for his right to have them and express them freely.”
Huckabee was governor of Arkansas in 2004 when an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman passed with three-fourths of the vote.
At the Chick-fil-A in midtown Little Rock, cars were lined up down the block waiting to turn into the parking lot and the store was packed at midday Wednesday.
“I don’t eat here often, but I’m eating here today because of that (appreciation day),” said Stephanie Sheets of Little Rock as she sat in her car in line. “I’m supporting freedom of religion, freedom to believe like you want to believe and freedom to say hey, I believe in whatever.”
Lined up on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant were protesters who said they were staging a “Chick-fil-A Depreciation Day.” They held signs with messages such as “Hate is not a family value” and “Honk for equality.”
The protesters, many of them holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun in the 100-degree heat, said they supported Cathy’s right to free speech but opposed his anti-gay rights stance and contributions his company has made to groups like the Family Research Council which they described as anti-gay.
“We recognize and acknowledge that they have an absolute right to say the things that they say,” said Randi Romo of Little Rock, executive director of the Center for Artistic Revolution, a pro-gay rights group.
“But conversely, because of free speech, we have a right to rebut it and say this is the other side of the coin, these are real human lives you’re talking about and what you do doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It affects a lot of people,” Romo said.
Several motorists gave friendly honks as they drove by the protesters Wednesday. A pedestrian told the group, “Yay for y’all! Keep it up!”
Some motorists in line yelled comments such as “I love Chick-fil-A!” and “Go Chick-fil-A!”
Protesters said they expected more than 100 people to take part in the protest at various times during the day.
Huckabee said on his Facebook page Monday that nearly 500,000 people had indicated on Facebook they would take part in the national appreciation day.
Chick-fil-A spokesman Steve Robinson said in a statement Wednesday the company would not comment on its Appreciation Day sales.
“As a privately held company Chick-fil-A does not comment publically about our sales figures or volume,” he said.
Robinson noted that Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not created by Chick-fil-A but said the company appreciates its customers and is “glad to serve them at any time.”
Wednesday’s demonstrations at Chick-fil-A were not the only ones planned for this week. On Friday, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is urging same-sex couples to protest at the chain’s restaurants by kissing.