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Chick-Fil-A Protesters Holding "Kiss-In"

5:19 PM, Aug 3, 2012   |    comments
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Gay rights organizations and other advocacy groups promoted a "National Same-Sex Kiss Day" on Friday encouraging people to go to Chick-fil-A restaurants and lock lips with a member of the same sex to protest the fast-food chain owners' opposition to same-sex unions.

The kissing crusade against the chicken chain came after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press his company supports "the biblical definition of the family unit."

By Friday afternoon reports from restaurants around the country showed the number of protesters was low compared to the hundreds of people from around the country who turned out Wednesday for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."

At a Chick-fil-A in the food court at the Paramus Park mall in New Jersey, which was jam-packed with customers lined up to support the company on Wednesday, business went on as usual with no crowds of kissing couples.

Dave VanLenten from Vernon, N.J., said he stopped into the fast food restaurant to show his support for free speech.

"It's not that one side is right or wrong" with the issue, he said, adding that people have a right to speak their minds.

Marci Alt and her family planned to protest at the Decatur, Ga., Chick-fil-A.

Alt and her partner started an online petition to invite Cathy to sit down with her family for dinner. Their petition calls on Cathy to meet with the family and "discuss the hardships many gay families face because they are denied the chance to marry."

In California, police were investigating graffiti discovered on the side of at a Chick-fil-A in Torrance. The graffiti said "Tastes like hate" and had a picture of a cow. No one has been arrested.

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee created Wednesday's "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" to support Cathy. He said he was "incensed" by the backlash against Chick-fil-A.

There were long lines at more than 1,600 Chick-fil-A's across the country as patrons queued up to support the chain as well as the right to free speech. Chick-fil-A didn't release sales figures, but said it was "an unprecedented day."

"The Chick-fil-A culture and 66-year-old service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect - regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender," a company statement said.

Also Wednesday, a Wendy's franchise owner took the unusual stance of posting signs of support for his rival.

Jim Furman, CEO of Tar Heel Capital, confirmed to WIS TV in Columbia, S.C., that his company put up messages such as "We stand with Chick Fil A" outside Wendy's restaurants Wednesday. He said he didn't know how many signs were posted.

Furman didn't reply to requests for comment from USA TODAY.

Tar Heel Capital owns 75 Wendy's in North Carolina and South Carolina.

"An independent Wendy's franchisee that (is) located in the Carolinas posted (signs) supporting Chick-fil-A," Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini confirmed.

Bertini said the messages were up for less than a day, adding that Wendy's "position as a company is that we're proud of our long history of serving all customers regardless of their beliefs or orientation."

Not all gay rights groups are protesting Chick-fil-A.

Garden State Equality, based in New Jersey, is not supporting Friday's demonstrations, calling it a "shallow" way to voice opposition.

"Some national organizations are making this Friday a same-sex kiss-in day at Chick-fil-A stores. Nah, we're not doing that in New Jersey," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of the group. "Same-sex couples' relationships involve a hell of a lot more meaning - love and commitment - just like opposite-sex couples' relationships do. That's why we want marriage equality ... and we're focused on the longer range with more impact."

He said Cathy has the First Amendment right to speak out and use their money as they wish, but others have the same right.

"So over the next few months, you'll see Garden State Equality respond in a meaningful way to steer traffic away from Chick-fil-A in New Jersey ... (and) also steer traffic toward the stores whose operators stand for equality. We will use a carrot, not just a drumstick."

Students at universities around the country are using Facebook and Change.org to create online petitions for people to sign that call for banning and removing Chick-Fil-A restaurants from campuses. Schools targeted include the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State, University of Tennessee, University of Minnesota, West Virginia University and the University of Maryland.

Many groups and politicians have brought Cathy's comments into the ongoing debate over gay marriage. The brand once associated mainly with chicken sandwiches and a quirky "Eat Mor Chikin" slogan is now in the political cauldron.

Chick-fil-A issued a statement three days after Cathy's comments: "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." Yet the company remains in the headlines.

"This IS a huge challenge for companies (and) brands today. We are one country divided by politics," said marketing consultant Laura Ries. "Coming out strongly on one side or the other is hitting the third rail of branding."

A company should be true to its values but also has to consider the consequences before engaging in controversy, Ries said.

As a general rule, it's religion and politics that can get consumers into a lather. "It's like talking at a dinner party," she said.

The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay unions, urged a boycott when General Mills and Starbucks came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Even with potential repercussions, some companies and executives openly support gay rights. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition opposing a ballot measure that would invalidate a gay marriage law in that state, has announced that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, will donate $2.5 million to its cause.

Other companies say they believe political issues aren't their domain.

Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan is linked with conservative Catholic causes, but his company avoided those issues. He sold the company in 1998.

Domino's stance is to stay out of public debate, and just focus on its products, spokesman Tim McIntyre said. "We're not a religious company. We're not a political company. We're a pizza company," he said.

The idea for the national kiss-in came from Carly McGehee, a 24-year-old gay woman.

On July 19, three days after Cathy's interview ran in the Baptist Press, she posted the idea on her Facebook page and soon friends, as well as friends of friends showed their support for the concept. "It just skyrocketed," she said.

She was already aware of Chick-fil-A's very conservative beliefs, but "once Dan Cathy released his statements, I thought there is no better time than now" to take action.

GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has helped her to promote the kissing protest, said McGehee, who is a political activist. Currently, she is a street canvasser for the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

She's recently been working in Manhattan, but on Friday she will be at the kiss-in in Dallas where her family lives.

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