Chicago-area supporters of the controversial fast-food chain embroiled in a chicken-centric culture clash turned out in droves Wednesday for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
Former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for the day after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's comments in an interview with the Baptist Press put the company's long-held opposition to marriage equality back in the spotlight and led to a backlash from same-sex marriage supporters and LGBT advocates.
Thousands of people gathered at Chicago-area locations of the chain, according to NBC Chicago. At the Orland Park Chick-fil-A, customers waited in line for two hours to send their message of support.
"I like their view on marriage and I believe we should have the freedom to at least express our views on it," Susan Soulian, a customer who drove an hour to wait in line for some chicken told Orland Park Patch. “That’s all they did. You can’t let a business not set up because of a different viewpoint.”
The restaurant's marketing director added that the event was better attended than the store's grand opening, according to Patch.
In Schaumburg, customers said that, while they "did not oppose gay people," they participated in the day out of support for freedom of speech, the Arlington Cardinal reports.
Bob Matter, who said he was a liberal, atheist same-sex marriage supporter, told the Chicago Sun-Times he came to the chain's downtown Chicago location because "there should be no government limits on what you believe."
"It’s like I’m in line to vote," Richard David, 71, of Lincoln Park, told the Sun-Times at the downtown Chick-fil-A. "I’m voting for free speech."
Meanwhile, Lauren Silich, owner of Chicago's downtown Chick-fil-A, emphasized that her restaurant has no discriminatory policies in place and noted that they have donated to pro-LGBT causes in an interview with the Windy City Times.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Republican Party held a press conference as they filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan over Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's opposition to the chain's expansion in Chicago.
"You could easily imagine another jurisdiction someplace in which a business owner could express a view in favor of gay marriage and have his zoning permit pulled. Would that be OK? I mean, is that fair? I mean, of course not," Chris Cleveland, vice chairman of the Chicago GOP, told CBS Chicago. "We are all in danger if permits someone’s permits can be pulled, and if the government can engage in economic bullying."
Ald. Moreno previously stated that, due to the chain's history of anti-gay marriage remarks and contributions to anti-LGBT groups, he does not approve of the College Park, Ga.-based chain's plan to open a new restaurant, the city's second, in the ward he represents. The mayor emphasized that "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values," but his office later clarified that he would not block the chain's expansion in the city.
The mayor's "Chicago values" remark was the subject of a segment on "The Daily Show" this week as Jon Stewart joked, "We are Chicago. A city built on gambling, corruption, murder and ballot stuffing. Not intolerance."
Local LGBT advocates have also responded to the controversy. On Friday, Equality Illinois will sponsor a "kiss-in" and is urging same-sex couples to head to Chicago-area Chick-fil-A locations.
Hamburger Mary's, located at 5400 N. Clark Street, has also offered a "hate-free" Southern-style fried chicken sandwich throughout August. A portion of the proceeds from the sandwich's sales will benefit Equality Illinois.