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Supporters of anti-gay Chick-fil-A CEO crowd local restaurants

Throngs of supporters packed Chick-fil-A locations around the nation, even in Utah on a day designated by Christian activists to support the restaurant owner’s anti-gay stances. While there are no official statistics of how much business has increased, a Salt Lake City Chick-Fil-A seemed overly full and at least two patrons were there specifically to support CEO Dan Cathy’s anti-equality stances.

“I am having lunch today because I heard it was when we were supposed to show that we support the biblical definition of marriage,” said one restaurant-goer who only wished the be identified by his first name, Jim. “I think the gay advocates have gone too far in our country and we need to get back to our roots. “

Jim’s wife, who wished to remain unnamed, said she agrees with Cathy’s statements and wishes more business-owners would speak out for limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

“I think our nation is going down the tank and there’s only one way to stop it and that’s through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ,” she said.

However, not everyone eating at Chick-fil-A was aware of the brouhaha surrounding the statements and several said they were simply eating lunch.

The support for Chick-fil-A was prompted by protests and boycotts after donations to anti-gay groups as well as comments made by Cathy. Over the last decade, Chick-fil-A has donated more than $4 million to anti-gay groups, including the Family Research Council and Exodus International, a group that encourages gay men to change their orientation, and company president Dan Cathy said the country’s future depends on outlawing marriage equality.

The debate took center stage again when company president Dan Cathy admitted to being anti-gay by saying he is “guilty as charged” and is very “supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about,” Cathy said on a conservative radio show.

The comments ignited a firestorm online with bloggers sounding off on his comments and calling for nationwide boycotts. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino even said he is prepared to ban Chick-fil-A from city limits.

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston,” Menino told The Boston Herald. “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city; we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

The Jim Henson Company, which had partnered with Chick-fil-A to feature Jim Henson’s Creature Shop toys in their kid’s meals from mid-July until Aug. 18 severed all ties to the company and had all profits made from the partnership donated to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over 50 years and we have notified Chick-fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors,” a statement from the company read.

Cathy’s recent statements are markedly different than his previous speeches when he said, “we’re not anti-anyone.” However, the company’s religious politics have been part of its identity since the company opened in 1946 and the fame of the restaurant’s chicken is matched only by its Christian ethos. The company has always been closed on Sundays, even in shopping malls and Christian hymns pump loudly through its Georgia headquarters. With more than 1,600 restaurants $4 billion in sales, equality advocates have their work cut out for them in launching a protest.

But equality advocates are working around the country to have Chick-fil-A locations removed from college campuses and encouraging queer and ally Americans to go elsewhere to eat. Also, a national kiss-in protest encouraging gay and lesbian couples to enter Chick-fil-A restaurants and lock lips is planned for Aug. 3.

But locally, the Chick-fil-A restaurants are far from anti-gay and even foster an inclusive environment for gay and lesbian employees as well as customers, said Eric Champeau, operator of the Chick-fil-A in Sugar House.

“We welcome everyone in our store and we’re not venturing into politics at all. In fact, we’re involved with several local organizations – but we focus on youth empowerment and other beneficial programs, such as the Odyssey House, the Cancer Society and the Utah Food Bank,” Champeau said. “We have several gay employees and plenty of gay customers. We’re about building up our community and we’re not focused on sexual orientation.”

While the specific amount of how much is required to pay to corporate offices is private information, Champeau stressed that his employees and customers are all local residents and the Salt Lake City location has never donated any funds to anti-gay groups directly.

“Chick-fil-A is pro-family. We’re not anti-anybody and frankly, I think it’s silly that we’re being pulled into politics at all,” he said.

While the Salt Lake City location may not donate to Exodus International, they acknowledge supporting local charters of the Boy Scouts, who ban gays from their ranks, and paying licensing fees to corporate offices.

The Human Rights Campaign is urging gays and lesbians to sign a petition against the restaurant chain as well as boycott all Chick-fil-A locations.

“Chick-fil-A is headed by a man who is proud of his company’s anti-LGBT giving and has made some extremist statements concerning marriage equality. He also heads up Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation, which doesn’t allow same-sex couples to participate in their marriage retreats.

Consumers now have to decide if that’s the kind of company they want to give their money to,” an HRC press release read.

Chick-fil-A corporate statements are focusing on damage control and a press release was recently published saying, “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

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