Raleigh, N.C. — Customers were lining up Wednesday at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the Triangle in a show of support for the company president’s stance on gay marriage.
The rush was in response to a social media invitation exhorting people to rally behind Dan Cathy, the president and chief operating officer, by eating at the popular fast-food chain for “national Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”
Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." That unleashed a torrent of criticism from gay rights groups and others, who have called for boycotts and efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.
But on Wednesday, crowds of supporters swelled at Chick-fil-A restaurants in Garner, Cary, Apex, Smithfield, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville and other locations.
“I just came home from Chick Fil-A in Garner at White Oak Shopping Center,” Debbie Lancaster said in an email to WRAL. “They were packed. The owner was there helping along with everyone else.”
She said the restaurant had a double line of cars wrapped around it.
“Looks like they are getting a lot of support today,” Lancaster said.
Gary Melton was at the Chick-fil-A in Knightdale, where customers were packing in.
"Overwhelming support for Christian-based company," he said in an email. "Restaurants are backed up out the doors and parking lots."
In many locations, including the Chick-fil-A on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, lines of vehicles overflowed from the restaurant parking lots onto major roadways.
A spokeswoman for the Rev. Billy Graham says the 93-year-old evangelist ate a Chick-fil-A lunch, including a chicken sandwich and waffle fries, at his North Carolina home.
Despite the outpouring of support, the company released a statement that steered away from the controversy, saying it wants to refocus on food and service.
"Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, said in the statement. "Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
Robinson also said the franchise maintains a culture of respect for people "regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."
Opponents of the company's stance are planning "Kiss Mor Chiks" for Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at the restaurants and kiss each other.