PHOTO: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee interviews patrons at a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Destin, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012.
People across the country are flocking to Chick-fil-A today, not because of the fast-food chain's chicken sandwiches, but because of its CEO's vocal support of traditional marriage.
Nearly 600,000 supporters signed up to celebrate Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day today, which former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee created to counter a boycott launched by gay marriage activists last week after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy said he was "guilty as charged" for not supporting gay marriage.
"The goal is simple," Huckabee wrote on the Facebook page for the event. "Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1."
Courtney Clem, 22, strolled over to the Chick-fil-A in Crystal City, Va., to pick up lunch for her entire office and show her support. Clem said she wanted to eat at Chick-fil-A today not only because she supports traditional marriage but because she supports the First Amendment.
"We want to support their right to an opinion," Clem said. "I do support that opinion. And the right. Even if it was an opinion I disagreed with, I'd be here today. "
Clem said the Appreciation Day has been a success because Chick-fil-A supporters are responding to the opposition "causing such a stink about it, getting so upset about him voicing his opinion.
"I think it's more about people frankly being offended that people are offended," she said before hauling a tote-sized bag of chicken sandwiches out the door.
Cathy's comments that he supports "the biblical definition of the family unit" are not unusual: His restaurant is closed on Sundays and supports a nonprofit ministry foundation. But they have become a rallying cry for activists on both sides of the marriage debate in the past week.
Gay rights groups launched a national boycott of the chicken chain last week, which the mayors of Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., have publically supported.
The Philadelphia City Council is considering a resolution to condemn the company for what councilman Jim Kenney called their "Anti-American attitude."
D.C. councilman Marion Barry tweeted that he does not support "hate chicken," Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino said there is "no place for your company" in his city and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the restaurant's "values are not Chicago values."
The Chicago Republican Party is making a formal complaint against Emanuel today, alleging that the mayor has "broken civil rights laws pertaining to religious freedom and the First Amendment in denying Chick-fil-A a permit to operate its business in the City of Chicago."
Emanuel's press secretary clarified that the mayor does not intend to block Chick-fil-A from opening its first free-standing location in Chicago.
"If they meet all the usual requirements, then they can open their restaurant, but he does not believe the CEO's values are reflective of our city," mayoral spokesman Tarrah Cooper said, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
National conservative figures have responded to the controversy with an outpouring of support for the restaurant.
Sarah Palin posted a photo of her and her husband holding bulging bags of Chick-fil-A on her Facebook page. She also appeared on Fox News in an interview: "Well, that calling for the boycott is a real -- has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights," Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And the owner of the Chick-fil-A business had merely voiced his personal opinion about supporting traditional definition of marriage, one boy, one girl, falling in love, getting married.
"And having voiced support for kind of that cornerstone of all civilization and all religions since the beginning of time, he then basically [is] getting crucified."
She continued, suggesting that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had expressed similar sentiments about gay marriage until they made a push to appeal to gay voters.
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