Customers packed Lexington Chick-fil-A restaurants on Wednesday to show support for the fast-food chain after its president was criticized for remarks about marriage.
By about 7 p.m. Wednesday, more than 30 cars were lined up at the Nicholasville Road location, and it was standing-room-only inside. The turnout was similar at the Harrodsburg Road location. Chris Mullins, marketing director for Chick-fil-A at Hamburg Place, said the scene at her store was a "mirror image." (Long lines were also reported at a Louisville location.)
"We have appreciated the people coming in, but we did not coordinate this day," Mullins said.
Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, recently said that the company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." He told the Baptist Press last month: "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. We give God thanks for that."
Gay rights activists called for boycotts, and the mayors of Chicago and Boston have come out against adding new locations in their cities. "I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston," Mayor Thomas Menino wrote in a letter to Cathy.
In response to the criticism, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
On a Facebook page Huckabee created to promote the event, more than 654,000 people said they would participate. Opponents of Cathy's stance have planned Kiss Mor Chiks for Friday, asking people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A locations and kiss each other.
State Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, said she spent an hour eating at the Nicholasville Road location with her family Wednesday. Governors and mayors, she said, shouldn't be able to tell Americans to stay away from a business.
"We believe this private business owner ought to be able to have whatever belief system he wants" without being boycotted, King said.
As Harry Hosey and his wife, Vickie, walked to their car, parked in the nearby Kmart lot because Chick-fil-A's lot was full, he said the couple had never been to the restaurant before but wanted to stand up for the First Amendment.
"I support his right to express his opinion, just like anyone else," Hosey said of Cathy. "I'm appalled at the resistance movement against the CEO for expressing his opinion."
In a related development Wednesday, the University of Louisville's president and provost notified students and employees that the school would not penalize Chick-fil-A for Cathy's comments, according to The Associated Press. A petition has circulated calling on the university to shut down the restaurant's franchise in the Student Activities Center.
President James Ramsey and Provost Shirley Willihnganz said earlier that the statements on marriage were "offensive and unnecessary." A statement sent last week to the university's Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Services said Ramsey and Willihnganz "will not be eating at Chick-fil-A any time soon."
But the Courier-Journal reported Wednesday that Ramsey and Willihnganz said in an email Wednesday that the university valued diversity and free speech as well as the right of individuals to choose where to spend money.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Daniel Moore: (859) 231-3344. Twitter: @heraldleader