Janet Kwak and Rodney Danson
Chick Fil-A became an unlikely focal point for the same sex marriage debate. Janet Kwak reports for the NBC4 News at midnight on Wednesday, August 1
Los Angeles-area Chick-fil-A locations were again the target of protesters Wednesday, the date selected by conservative activists to support the Southern chicken chain after a backlast over the company's president's comments opposing gay marriage.
The Northridge franchise of Chick-fil-A was the site of a mini-rally from a local branch of the tea party, with about 15 protesters from the San Fernando Valley Patriots waving flags as the store opened at 6:30 a.m.
Shortly before 9 p.m., the line was out the door and snaking through the parking lot as hundreds of people gathered to "protest the protesters," according to one patron.
They were there for "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," a national event organized by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for Aug. 1.
The tea party members, pictured at left, said they came out because the critical response to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy's comments had motivated them to support his free-speech rights.
Last week, gay-rights protesters at the grand opening of a Laguna Hills Chick-fil-A, seen below at right, joined a nationwide movement targeting franchises in response to Cathy's comments to a Christian magazine.
Cathy has said the company – which has expanded to some 1,600 franchises since the original location opened in 1967 in Atlanta – operates on "biblical principles."
Through its WinShape Foundation, the company has donated millions of dollars to organizations that have fought against gay marriage and support conversion or reparative therapy, which seeks to turn gay people straight, according to an investigation from gay-rights organization Equality Matters.
The latest series of protests this summer appears to originate from reaction to a July 2 story about company Cathy published on the website of the Biblical Recorder.
"We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives," Cathy said in the story.
His comments generated protests – and innumerable opinion columns – across the country from gay-rights proponents. Then, Huckabee last month declared Aug. 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day in support of Cathy.
On the Facebook event page for the day of support, Huckabee wrote: "I have been incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick Fil-A company because the CEO, Dan Cathy, made comments recently in which he affirmed his view that the Biblical view of marriage should be upheld."
He said Wednesday's day of appreciation was not intended to start rallies or protests.
Rather, he wrote, "The goal is simple: Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we're considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant."
He added that Chick-fil-A is not involved in the day designed to bring business to its franchises.
The event page for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day had nearly 630,000 Facebook members saying they were "attending" by mid-day Wednesday.
On his own page, Huckabee, a former presidential candidate turned talk-show host, posted photos of lines at various Chick-fil-A franchises across the country.
Aerial video showed lines wrapping around restaurants in La Habra and Yorba Linda, and NBC4 viewers said they say other locations that were similarly packed.
Meanwhile, in central Los Angeles, protests from a variety of perspectives took place Wednesday at a Hollywood branch of Chick-fil-A. Gay-rights advocates stood next to protesters from the animal-rights organization PETA. A man with a Bible and shirt reading "Prayer," pictured at left below, said homosexuals must "repent."
The restaurant was packed with customers, however, who seemed unfazed by the activity outside the franchise.
On the same day as the Laguna Hills protest last week, the owner of the Hollywood franchise posted a statement on the location's Facebook page proclaiming the 10-month-old restaurant's independence from the chain.
"The Hollywood Chick-fil-A has been dedicated to serving our guests with honor, dignity and respect. We strive to ensure that every guest receives amazing food and service regardless of belief, race, creed, sexual orientation of gender," the statement read.
"I know that some of our guests are upset by comments made by Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A Inc. He had made it clear to me those were his personal views, and that his intent was not to speak on behalf of every Chick-fil-A owner," it continued.
The page features an image of the store backed by colorful clouds, palm trees and a rainbow, which has been a symbol of gay pride for decades.
NBC4's Annette Arreola and Angie Crouch contributed to this report.