COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Major thoroughfares backed up all day on Wednesday in front of this city’s five Chick-fil-A locations. The scene played out in cities throughout the country, as people who respect marriage as an institution between one man and one woman came out to support the embattled president of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, who came under attack for expressing his support of traditional marriage in the Baptist Press.
“This is amazing,” said Jackie Walls, marketing director for a Colorado Springs Chick-fil-A, as she helped manage traffic and took orders from customers waiting in the drive-through line. “People started showing up in droves at about 9am, and it has not slowed down. If you show up here now (about 7pm), the wait is about an hour and a half.”
Pedestrian customers stood in lines that wrapped around the chain’s buildings, with some lines extending onto nearby sidewalks, waiting to get in the door.
In the drive-through line, waiting to turn onto a street that led to a Colorado Springs Chick-fil-A, were the founders and owners of CatholicMarriagePrep.com. Christian Meert, who owns the company with his wife, Christine, said all 24 of the CatholicMarriagePrep.com instructors spent hours in line to do business with Chick-fil-A.
Meert and his wife immigrated to Colorado from France and became American citizens in 2010. At the time, he could not imagine this was a country in which four major politicians — the mayors of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington — would strike out verbally at a businessman for expressing his support of traditional marriage. The mayors said Chick-fil-A is not welcome in their respective cities because of Cathy’s viewpoint.
The Meerts have five children and are concerned about their new country, where they are in the business of promoting traditional marriage.
“I don’t think this would happen in France,” Christian Meert said of the attack on Chick-fil-A’s CEO. “I think we are more intolerant here, at this point in time, than in Europe. This is supposed to be the land of the free, which is one reason we became Americans. I never, ever thought I would see this in the United States.”
Meert said he, and most likely his staff, will continue doing business with Chick-fil-A long after the conflict is yesterday’s news.
“I had never eaten here before, but I will eat here often going forward,” Meert said.
In addition, Meert invited Chick-fil-A to sponsor the upcoming Rocky Mountain Men’s Conference, scheduled for Oct. 13, which attracts more than 2,000 Catholic men to downtown Colorado Springs each year.
People in line at various Chick-fil-A locations told the Register they were troubled by the controversy over Cathy’s support for traditional marriage, but they also saw an upside.
“I think this is bringing together a lot of us who may be of different religions but agree on the value of traditional marriage and families,” said Dee Waite of Pueblo, Colo.
Waite calls herself an “evangelical Christian,” and she spent the day outside of Chick-fil-A on Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs collecting signatures to get a question on the state’s November ballot that would protect the unborn.
“I just think a business owner should be able to express his beliefs without being eviscerated for it,” Waite said. “Here, we have ranking people in government causing trouble for a man simply for saying he believes in traditional marriage. I don’t think Americans are going to stand for that.”
Waite said the waiting line was a gold mine of pro-life signatures, and she encountered almost no counterprotesters.
Bryan and Sally Kneeland waited 90 minutes for their first-ever venture into a Chick-fil-A just to show support for traditional marriage and free speech.
“I don’t like this lack of respect for a man’s opinion,” said Bryan Kneeland, a Methodist from Wisconsin. “I don’t have any problem with the homosexual population. I have a problem with all of this outcry over someone supporting traditional, heterosexual marriage.”
Chick-fil-A officials at the company’s Atlanta headquarters would not release sales figures, but they told ABC News that Wednesday’s sales were “record-setting.”
“We are very grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers on Aug. 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country,” said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s executive vice president of marketing, in a press release. “We congratulate local Chick-fil-A owner/operators and their team members for striving to serve each and every customer with genuine hospitality.”
The controversy — and subsequent “Appreciation Day” — erupted after Cathy told the Baptist Press, in part: “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.”
Opponents of his statement complain that Cathy has contributed to organizations that oppose same-sex “marriage.” They are also upset that Cathy, in a recent radio interview, said our generation “has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
On Aug. 3, two days after “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” homosexuals and transgender activists are expected to stage a “same-sex kiss-in” at Chick-fil-As throughout the country.
“Appreciation Day” was initiated by former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., on his national radio talk show.
“That’s America,” Huckabee said on Fox News Thursday morning, when asked about the kiss-in. “As long as they're orderly. As long as they don’t disrupt the flow of customers and traffic.”
Noting the irony of the situation, he continued, "If they believe that this will help their cause — to put people of the same sex kissing each other in front of families — if they believe that will encourage people to be more sympathetic, then more power to them."
Register correspondent Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.