Hundreds of diners descended on Chick-fil-A's main Fort Wayne store Wednesday to support the sandwich chain after its CEO took heat for his conservative stance on gay marriage.
The Chick-fil-A at Jefferson Pointe was packed at lunchtime, with dozens of people forming a line out the door and more arriving by the minute alone or in handfuls. Conservatives had declared Wednesday "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" after CEO Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage last month.
"I have nothing against the LGBT community at all, but due to my beliefs and my faith, I believe very strongly that marriage should be between one man and one woman," said Ashley Smith, 23.
Smith said she had already packed a lunch for work Wednesday but decided to eat at Chick-fil-A after seeing a segment about Cathy's remarks on NBC's "Today." She arrived just after 11 a.m. and waited nearly an hour for her meal.
"I basically came to support Chick-fil-A for standing up for what they believe in," she said.
The event appeared to draw a wide-ranging crowd including teens, young families and older people. Some cars in the parking lot displayed bumper stickers with religious or political slogans, such as the tea party movement's "Don't tread on me" mantra.
No counter-protesters had appeared by noon, although some gay marriage advocates around the country were encouraging same-sex couples to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants Friday and kiss one another as a demonstration against Cathy's views.
Fort Wayne Pride director Nikki Fultz previously told The News-Sentinel that local same-sex marriage advocates weren't likely to stage organized protests against Chick-fil-A.
In an interview last month, Cathy told the Baptist Press that "We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit."
In response to the remarks, a Chicago alderman threatened to block Chick-fil-A from building a new store there, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said the chain would not be welcome in his city.
Meanwhile, former Arkansas governor and Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee urged conservatives to support the fast food chain, creating a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" Facebook page that drew more than half a million supporters.
"The whole issue is the fact that our whole country has turned away from biblical principles," said Fort Wayne resident Mike Martin, 65, who said he and his wife saw Fox News host Sean Hannity's interview with Cathy last month.
Chick-fil-A did not officially promote Wednesday's event or offer discounts to those who braved the long lines. The chain, which is owned by the Cathy family, also refused to provide figures showing how much the event boosted sales Wednesday.
"'Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day' was not created by Chick-fil-A. We appreciate our customers and are glad to serve them at any time," Chick-fil-A vice president Steve Robinson said in a statement.