Lunch lines stretched out the doors and around the buildings of Columbia-area Chick-fil-A restaurants Wednesday as patrons showed up by the dozens throughout the day to eat, drink and send a clear message.
We came here for lunch today for the specific reason to show that were supporting the Christian values and the normal marriage, said Sue Bell, who stood under a shade tree outside the Chick-fil-A in Lexington, with her husband, Olin, standing in a line in the midday sun to get inside.
Like thousands across the state and around the nation who dined at Chick-fil-A restaurants on Wednesday, the Bells came out to show solidarity with Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, who stirred up a firestorm in the gay rights community with his comments recently that his Atlanta-based company supports the biblical definition of family.
Conservative television commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared Wednesday as national Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, as the chain began to come under fire for Cathys comments last week. Some of the patrons turning out Wednesday said they had signed online petitions declaring they would eat at a Chick-fil-A that day.
Before midday, patrons began their descent on the restaurants, waiting in lines with their children, sharing conversations with others nearby, but almost steadfastly refusing to leave until they reached the counter and bought something.
There were no visible signs of protesters at several area locations Wednesday although protesters did show up at some locations around the nation and state, including Surfside Beach. The controversy raged on social media sites and in the hearts of those who dont support the restaurant.
Christine Johnson, executive director of S.C. Equality an advocate for the states gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities said she passed by a Chick-fil-A on her way to lunch Wednesday and saw the crowds.
I really felt sort of this crushing sense of sadness, she said. Thats sort of an in-your-face insult.
Cathys right to speak out on what he believes is undeniable, Johnson said. But the company gives money to organizations that treat members of the LBGT community as second-class citizens, Johnson said, such as the Family Research Council.
Mr. Cathy has a right to his opinion, she said. I feel consumers need to be acutely aware of where their consumer dollars are spent.
Many Midlands consumers Wednesday voted for Chick-fil-A.
Inside the Lexington Chick-fil-A, the lobby was stuffed as patrons stood in lines 45 minutes in some cases to reach the counter, get an order and get out.
Outside, a solid line of cars completely lapped the building and stretched out into the streets waiting to feed into the restaurants drive-thru window.
Lexington police shut off an access lane leading into the restaurant to divert traffic and presumably avert tie-ups from spilling out onto U.S. 378, the major thoroughfare in busy town east of Columbia.
Norman Hughes of Lexington, his wife, Wanda, and sons, Jeremiah, 12, and Zachariah, 9, showed up for lunch together and happily tacked themselves onto the back of the line, 30 feet outside the entrance.
We saw the message that said on Aug. 1 to show your support for Christian values and marriage by coming to Chick-fil-A, Hughes said, adding his agreement to Cathys remarks.
Thats what the Bible teaches, he said. Gods word teaches us that holy marriage is between a man and woman only. Not man to man. Not woman to woman.
The Hughes said they do not believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex partners to marry.
He (Cathy) didnt say anything in his interview about gay marriage. He just said he supported the Christian marriage and Christian principles, Wanda Hughes said. If weve come to a time in this country where someone cant conduct their business and have personal convictions without suffering penalty, then thats fascism. Thats not Americanism.
Normally, the Hughes said they would eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, but they planned to spend $20 on Wednesday.
Porsche Lee Gregory said she and her niece, Gianna, were simply in the neighborhood of the Lexington restaurant Wednesday when the little girl said she was hungry and asked if they could go to Chick-fil-A.
Gregory, who moved here from Washington, D.C., said she has many friends who are gay, who had spoken to her about the controversy. I do support them it is their life, Gregory said. And there is no reason they cant have the same opportunities as the rest of us.
Pam Mayhak of Irmo visited the Lexington restaurant along with her mother, Beverly Puzia, of Gilbert. Both said they came to support marriage first, having signed an online petition promising to show up, then secondly to get a bite to eat.
I really believe strongly in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman; that God has a better way, for a better way of living, said Puzia, a professional marriage counselor. So I like to give support to anything that stands for that.
Mayhak, who said she is a Tea Party member, said she was glad to see conservatives actively standing up for something, rather than merely vocalizing support.
I believe in the values that made this country great, Mayhak said. I believe all that Chick-fil-A stands for, and I think there is a lot more under attack than just the sanctity of marriage.
Its everything I hold as valuable in America, Mayhak said.
A grassroots gay rights movement is urging supporters to stage their own visits to Chick-fil-A restaurants Friday with a kiss-in, Johnson said. Others are organizing alternative chicken dinners to raise money for equality organizations, she said.
The most important lesson to take from this on either side of the issue is it really does matter. The businesses we patronize and what they do with the money really matters, she said.
Video: Lexington Chick-fil-A on Wednesday
By Tim Dominick