updated - May 25, 2013 Saturday EDT
The criticism over Chick-fil-A chief executive Dan Cathy's opposition to gay marriage garnered supporters from all over the country and they turned up in great numbers to show their support for the fast-food chain.
The backlash came as "tea party" activists and conservatives held a so-called "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
On Facebook, more than 618,000 people said they were taking part in the "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" organized by former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
"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," Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and current Fox News Channel personality, said on his website.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin repeated her support for fast-food chain Chick-fil-A and its president in an interview on Fox News, where she defended Dan Cathy's decision to publicly express his anti-gay marriage views and claimed that the resulting backlash against the company was an affront to free speech.
"Well, that calling for the boycott is a real -- has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights," Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And the owner of the Chick-fil-A business had merely voiced his personal opinion about supporting traditional definition of marriage, one boy, one girl, falling in love, getting married. And having voiced support for kind of that cornerstone of all civilization and all religions since the beginning of time, he then basically [is] getting crucified."
Palin continued, charging that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had expressed similar views until they made a shift to appease gay voters.
"I'm speaking up for him and his 1st Amendment rights and anybody else who would wish to express their not anti-gay people sentiment, but their support of traditional marriage, which President Obama and Joe Biden, they both supported the exact same thing until just a few months ago, when Obama had to flip-flop to shore up the homosexual voter base," she said.
The uproar began when Chick-Fil-A's president and Dan CEO Cathy, told the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist journal, in early July that the company was "very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit." In a radio interview in June, Cathy said, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'"
"We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
Former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress and former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin joined in, urging their supporters to give Chick-fil-A their business. Dozens of photos posted to Twitter on Wednesday showed Chick-fil-A locations packed with people or lines out the door.
On the other end of the debate, same-sex couples plan to stage a kiss-in at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the U.S. on Friday.
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