RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Chick-fil-A has been in the news lately, thanks to comments by the fast food company's president opposing same-sex marriage. Social media helped spread the story and some U.S. mayors urged Chick-fil-A not to come to their cities. Now, conservatives, including former Governor Mike Huckabee, are calling for the public to support the chain by going out today and eating at one of its restaurants. Here's NPR's Kathy Lohr.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Dan Cathy didn't realize the stir he would create when he spoke out against same-sex marriage to the Baptist Press and on the Ken Coleman radio show.
DAN CATHY: I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude, to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.
LOHR: Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is a private company founded in 1946 and has never hidden its Christian ties. Its 1,600 restaurants are closed on Sundays and the company president donates to several groups that oppose same-sex marriage.
City officials in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco have criticized the comments and vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening new restaurants in their towns. That drew reaction from Christian conservatives like Mike Huckabee, who spoke out on behalf of Chick-fil-A.
MIKE HUCKABEE: You know, if people don't like Chick-fil-A sandwiches, they certainly can decide to eat somewhere else.
LOHR: The former Arkansas governor says Chick-fil-A's president has a right to his own personal beliefs.
HUCKABEE: This is about a company that sells chicken, not politics, and they shouldn't be out of business because their owner happens to have a point of view that may not be the same as the gay activists'.
LOHR: So Huckabee made a nationwide call, not to protest or picket, but for people to eat at Chick-fil-A today.
I'm standing outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Roswell, Georgia. That's a suburb of Atlanta. And there has been a long stream of cars throughout the lunch hour, going through the drive-through, and the parking lot is packed. In fact, it's overflow capacity. And that's where I'm standing, in the overflow lot. The manager inside didn't want me to disturb people in the restaurant, so I talked to people out here.
BILL PETERSON: I love Chick-fil-A.
LOHR: Bill Peterson is an executive recruiter.
PETERSON: I think it's a great organization. They've done a lot for Atlanta and the cities that they're in, so I think very highly of the Cathy family and Chick-fil-A.
LOHR: Mike Abraham, who says he eats here often, also backs the Chick-fil-A president.
MIKE ABRAHAM: This is a free country. You could say whatever you want. It's wrong to take it against his company, so if we believe in the Constitutions and freedom of speech, I don't think, I mean, we have to make a big deal out of his comments.
LOHR: Chick-fil-A issued a statement, saying the appreciation day was not created by Chick-fil-A, but by its fans. And the company says its goal is to have a positive influence on everyone who comes into contact with it. Gay rights groups are not backing down. Aaron McQuade with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation says Dan Cathy does have the right to free speech, but he says comments have consequences.
AARON MCQUADE: If you are going to exercise your free speech and say something that, you know, goes against the fabric of the community, the community is going to say something back to you. And we've seen that in a giant dip in Chick-fil-A's approval numbers and people will vote at the dinner table and people will say we don't agree with you.
LOHR: Some gay rights groups are keeping the pressure on. They plan to their hold own same-sex kiss day this Friday at Chick-fil-A restaurants.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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