Supporters pack Beaufort County Chick-fil-As following controversial gay marriage debate

tbarton@islandpacket.comAugust 1, 2012 

The Chick-fil-A restaurants in Bluffton and Beaufort were crowded inside and out with hundreds of people Wednesday following former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's call for support of the restaurant chain president's comments about marriage.

Some customers reported waiting in the drive-through for 45 minutes in Bluffton. Cars waiting to park or make their way to the window snaked through the entrance to the shopping center and were backed up to the U.S. 278 traffic light.

Inside, people stacked five to six deep at the counter as a line wound around the rest of the restaurant.

In Beaufort, cars filled the restaurant's parking lot and lined the street.

Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." That unleashed a torrent of criticism from gay rights groups and others, including elected officials, who have called for boycotts and efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.

Opponents of the company's stance are planning "Kiss Mor Chiks" on Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country and kiss each other.

Huckabee, also a Baptist minister, declared Wednesday national "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," prompting droves to fill the chain's restaurants across the country in response.

Customers young and old crammed into the Bluffton restaurant in a show of solidarity for free speech, traditional marriage and Christianity.

"I'm a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I'm here to support the decision that this company supports with regard to marriage between a man and a wife," Bluffton resident Paul Griz said.

Others said the issue has nothing to do with religion or marriage; instead they view the calls for boycotts as an attack on free speech.

"I don't think it's about Christianity. I think it's about our right as Americans to say what we feel without the government censoring our beliefs," said tourist Nancy Marcus of Tennessee. "What upsets me is the government thinks they can tell us what our opinions should be. That is not the American way."

Cathy's comments led to a firestorm of criticism from same-sex proponents, including assertions that his comments and position were bigoted and hateful.

"We welcome everybody here," Hilton Head Island resident Lydia Edmunds said. "It has nothing to do with hate or exclusion. It has everything to do with freedom of speech."

In Beaufort, customers wore American flag T-shirts or Mitt Romney buttons as they waited in line

"I commend the founder for standing his ground when the media oppressed him," Sharon Williams of Beaufort said of Cathy. "Don't be afraid to say what you believe."

Patricia Powers of Beaufort came for lunch at the franchise for the first time in years specifically to support the business. She said she believes in acting on her spirituality, not what society tells her is politically correct or popular.

"Everyone is entitled to their belief ... but God will be the final judge," she said. "The answer to every decision is in the Scriptures."

Attempts to speak with store managers in Bluffton and Beaufort were unsuccessful, as they worked frantically to keep up with the steady rush of customers. Subsequent calls to the businesses were not answered.

Staff writer Anne Christnovich and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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