Long lines formed at Chick-fil-A restaurants across South Mississippi and the country Wednesday as people turned out to support the company's position on family values and the CEO's First Amendment right of free speech.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared Aug. 1 "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" after gay rights activists criticized Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A chief executive officer, for his comments on marriage. Mayors of Chicago and Boston said they didn't want the company in their cities.
In South Mississippi, the turnout was so large police directed traffic near the restaurants in Gulfport and at The Promenade in D'Iberville. The drive-thru line in D'Iberville wrapped twice around the building at lunchtime, every table was taken and the walk-in line was out the door. At Edgewater Mall, a security officer watched as the line doubled to about 60 people just before noon.
"This is a huge kink in my schedule," said Rhonda Wall of Mobile. She waited for nearly half an hour to place her order at Edgewater Mall but said she had to be there to give her support.
"To me it's about freedom of speech," said Merritt Johnson of Ocean Springs. He said business executives should have the right to say what they believe without being crucified for it.
"People have to take a stand for American values; what America was founded on," said James Chapman, a retired Air Force pastor, "even if it means standing in line for a chicken sandwich."
The controversy began after Cathy said in an interview with the Biblical Recorder that Chick-fil-A, which closes its restaurants on Sunday, is "very much supportive of the family -- the Biblical definition of the family unit." The wire services reported that he said the company doesn't discriminate in hiring or who is served.
"I think he's wrong," said Courtney Sparkman of Gulfport, who said he wasn't going into Chick-fil-A Wednesday. He said Candy should keep his opinion to himself, as should those who are in favor of same-sex marriage. "It can start a lot of commotion," he said. "Everybody should do what they want to do, love who they want."
Published reports say gay rights groups are calling for a "Kiss Mor Chiks" protest Friday, asking same-sex couples to kiss at Chick-fil-A restaurants.