Chick-fil-A supporters flooded the fast-food chains restaurants nationwide Wednesday, touting traditional marriage, free speech and support for the company in the wake of its devout Christian presidents public comments against same-sex marriage.
Overflowing parking lots and long lines were the norm at Charlotte-area locations. One local store owner called it the busiest day in the stores history.
More than 100 people crammed inside the Matthews Chick-fil-A at lunchtime as the drive-thru line extended down the street. Customer June Ross said she applauds the company for sticking to its values.
Chick-fil-A has always been for family, for God, for community and for standing up for what they believe is right, she said.
The goal of Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dubbed it, was to stand in solidarity with the company.
The event follows a public backlash against the company after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said he was guilty as charged in supporting the biblical definition of the family unit.
Politicians in Chicago and Boston said the company is not welcome to open there, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., said he wont support the expansion of a company that serves hate chicken.
Company critics plan a same-sex kiss-in Friday at Chick-fil-A locations nationally. The protest is backed by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
A few Chick-fil-A critics also protested nationwide Wednesday, including about 10 from Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate at the Hickory location.
North Carolina has been a battleground over the issue of same-sex marriage this year. This spring, voters backed a constitutional amendment that makes marriage between a man and a woman the only domestic legal union. Mecklenburg County voters opposed the Amendment One.
Support for conservative causes
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has long been socially conservative, giving millions of dollars to conservative causes, including organizations fighting same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, churches sent their congregations to Chick-fil-A in droves. Businesses encouraged their employees to go. Some ate at Chick-fil-A for every meal of the day.
In Columbia, the owner of the largest Wendys restaurant franchise in the world endorsed Chick-fil-A with a message on his own sign, WBTV found.
Herb Grossman held a sign inside the Matthews location reading, Praise Jesus and thank you Chick-fil-A, which earned him plenty of smiles and handshakes.
Pat Thompson visited the Matthews location with her husband, Ed. Around her neck was a brightly colored sign that read: We stand for biblical principles but extend love to those who dont agree.
We truly believe God has ordained the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman for reproductive purposes, she said.
Other patrons werent as concerned with Cathys opinion as they were with his ability to voice it.
Myers Park resident Elizabeth Nass brought her family to the Woodlawn location to support free speech.
He couldve had the opposite opinion, and I still would have come out in support of his right to free speech, she said.
Pam Brownscombe, a Matthews location visitor, said she voted against Amendment One but supports Chick-fil-A.
Im for gay marriage, but Im here with a friend in support of free speech, she said.
Conservative figures rallied behind Huckabees call to arms, which garnered almost 650,000 RSVPs on his Facebook page. Rick Santorum emailed supporters last week urging them to attend, and Sarah Palin tweeted a picture of her visit to Chick-fil-A earlier this week.
Evangelist Billy Graham on Wednesday ate a Chik-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries from his Montreat home, a spokesman said.
Chick-fil-As press department declined an interview, but the company released a statement pointing out that it didnt create the event but appreciates all of its customers.
Matthews customer Howard Perry said Cathy has a right to speak his mind.
Nobody is forced to eat here, he said. If they dont like his opinion they can eat elsewhere.