ATLANTA – Chick-fil-A fans were met Wednesday with long lines and an overflow of cars at drive-thru windows as thousands packed the chain in what has been billed “Appreciation Day.” The Atlanta-based chain, which has come under fire in the past few weeks because of remarks on gay marriage by company president Dan Cathy, was inundated with diners who wanted to demonstrate that they support Cathy’s stance on same-sex unions or support his right to free speech.

Cathy’s statements in June and July in support of the biblical definition of marriage raised the ire of supporters of gay unions, who have been increasingly concerned about the company’s donations to anti-gay marriage groups.

“Appreciation Day” was the brainchild of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who used Facebook and social media to ask fans from across the nation to support the nation’s second-largest fast-food chicken chain.

Opponents of Cathy’s position are planning a show of unity of their own on Friday with a “kiss-in” at locations across the nation.

Julie Greene of Marietta, Ga., was one who heeded Huckabee’s call on Wednesday. She said she and her family — including her children and parents — planned to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with Cathy’s “biblical values.”

But as she waited for breakfast in Powder Springs, Ga., Greene was quick to say that she had no animosity toward anyone. Her support comes down to free speech.

“Why can’t (Cathy) say what he believes without being persecuted for it?” she said. “We have our freedoms. And freedom of speech is one of our greatest.”

Chick-fil-A made clear that “Appreciation Day” is independent.

“Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was created by our fans, not Chick-fil-A,” Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s executive vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: to provide great food, genuine hospitality, and to have a positive influence on all who come in to Chick-fil-A.”

Daniel Jordan of Atlanta showed up at one Atlanta Chick-fil-A with the express purpose of supporting the company. He said while he disagreed with Cathy’s position on marriage, he is equally opposed to shutting down a company because of the views of one of its leaders.

“Some people are trying to upset their business because of their opinions,” he said. “The fact that they don’t support gay marriage, what a surprise.”

Erik Bloom, who tagged along with Jordan for a Chick-fil-A lunch, said Cathy should have kept his views private.

“I just think it’s dumb to be that outspoken about it,” said Bloom, an Atlanta resident. “I think it’s a bad business move. In business, you have to be more politically correct.”

For Teresa Williams of Albany, N.Y., Wednesday was her first Chick-fil-A experience. Williams, who was visiting Atlanta, was talked into eating a Chick-fil-A by friend Megan Myers, a Rochester, N.Y., resident, who praised the company’s chicken sandwiches. Both were aware of the controversy, but were unmoved by boycott efforts.

“Somebody’s stupid comments won’t stop me from having a milkshake,” said Myers


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