Derek Maxfield of Dawson, left, David Gutierrez of New Jersey and Laken Garver of Albany were among of a group of seven people who protested in front of Chick-fil-A on Dawson Rd. Friday as gay marriage supporters all over the country celebrated
“National Same-Sex Kiss Day.”
More than gay marriage driving Chick-fil-A flap
ATLANTA — When President Obama said same-sex couples should have the right to marry, it was national news for a few days before the presidential campaign and the country went back to business as usual.
Yet weeks after a fast-food executive doubled down on his opposition to gay marriage, debate rages on about equality, religious values and free speech. “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on Wednesday, with supporters flooding the chain’s franchises around the country, was countered with “kiss-ins” by same-sex couples at assorted locations Friday, long after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s initial comments to a religious publication touched off the clash.
That’s an unusual amount of staying power for what initially looked like just another skirmish over a hot-button question.
Coursing throughout the conversations on social media, in letters to the editor and in long lines to buy chicken sandwiches is the sense among proud Southerners that the outcry over Cathy’s comments smacks of regional stereotyping. When public officials in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago tell a Southern icon such as Chick-fil-A that it’s no longer welcome, and that Cathy should keep his opinions to himself, many in the Atlanta-based chain’s home region hear more than a little northern condescension.
“Maybe the reaction is just because we’re Southerners,” said Rose Mason, who was lunching Friday at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta.
Mason, who described herself as Christian, said she grew up in New York City. Now, she said, “I deal with my sister telling me we’re a little backward. People have this idea that we’re just behind on everything. So they view anything we say through that (perception).”
Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist whose family has always been outspoken about its faith, sparked the controversy by telling the Baptist Press that he and his family-owned restaurant chain are “guilty as charged” for openly — and financially — supporting groups that advocate for “the biblical definition of a family unit.” He later added that the United States is “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.' ”
For Marci Alt, organizer of a protest Friday at a Chick-fil-A in the relatively liberal Atlanta suburb of Decatur, it’s Cathy’s financial backing of conservative groups such as the Family Research Council that takes the conversation beyond merely what he said.
“Dan Cathy has the same First Amendment rights that I do. If he doesn’t want to agree with same-sex marriage, I understand that,” she said.
“But when he puts a pen to paper and writes a check to an organization that is about to squash my equal rights, I have a problem with that.”
Cathy’s comments were in keeping with the tradition established by his father, Truett Cathy, who started the chain in 1967 and never allowed franchises to open on Sundays.
Beyond Friday’s organized displays of affection, there were other signs that the furor still had legs. Police were investigating graffiti on the side of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Torrance, Calif., that read “Tastes like hate” and had a painting of a cow, in reference to the chain’s ubiquitous ads featuring cows encouraging people to eat poultry.
In Tucson, Ariz., an executive at a medical manufacturing company lost his job after filming himself verbally attacking a Chick-fil-A employee and posting the video online.
For William Klaus, a 26-year-old X-ray technician with traditional views on marriage, the debate starts at ends with Cathy’s liberty to voice his beliefs.
“He said what he said. Freedom of speech. Bottom line,” Klaus said at a Chick-fil-A in Jackson, Miss.
However, that goes for Cathy’s critics, too, said Klaus, adding that he stopped by the Jackson store simply to pick up some good food.
“For someone to blast him for his opinion, so be it — they have that right.”
--THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ALBANY, Ga. -- A handful of peaceful demonstrators showed up at Chick-fil-A on Dawson Road Friday, not for the salads or chicken sandwiches like those who turned out Wednesday for the so-called National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, but more to “even things out” or present an alternate point of view, they said.
Standing just off the highway a few yards west of the restaurant, the young sign-carriers emphasized that “God Loves Everyone,” not just heterosexuals. All but one of them said they were gay.
“We’re just trying to share our message to counter-balance those that are negative,” said David Gutierrez, 21, a student at The University of Georgia. “We believe in the rights of free speech like other good Americans. We’re not fighting hate with hate.”
In response to biblical scriptures carried on signs Wednesday, Gutierrez said he believes the most important thing in life is to honor the Golden Rule.
“If you live morally and follow the rules of human decency, like loving others and treating people like you would like to be treated, I don’t believe one person is more likely than another to wind up in hell,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez graduated from Deerfield-Windsor School and said he was halfway through his senior year before he finally became comfortable being “queer.” Even so, he credits his acceptance to a supportive family base.
“I’m blessed,” Gutierrez said. “Now I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Gutierrez’s boyfriend, Dereck (not his real name), comes from a religious family, he said, adding that he doesn’t fault anyone for thinking the way they do.
“I’d be a hypocrite if I said (gay critics) were flat-out wrong for their ideas,” he said. “(The ideas) are based in faith, and that’s what they believe. At the same time, when those ideas are negative and affecting people is when we have a problem. My being gay isn’t doing anything to you.”
When he realized his sexual orientation, Dereck said he prayed about it for years, for hours at time. Church counselors and ministers advised more prayer.
“I’m still religious and very faithful,” Dereck said. “In the end, the answer I received — the feeling I got from the Spirit — was that it’s a marriage, either way. You’re loving each other and being faithful to each other. God loves that.”
Laken Garver said she isn’t gay, but she came to support her friends. She said that being gay or lesbian doesn’t make anyone a bad person.
“If you’re going to call yourself Christian, you should love everyone equally,” Garver said. “Don’t be a hypocrite. We’re just saying that we deserve equality and that God loves everybody. That’s our opinion.”
Dropping by for chicken tenders, Alex Kendrick, associate pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church and director of the Sherwood line of motion pictures, said he was happy to see the group exercising its right to free speech near the restaurant.
“The first amendment gives the right of free speech and peaceable assembly to all Americans,” Kendrick said. “Wednesday demonstrated an overwhelming level of support for the stance Chick-fil-A’s president took for traditional marriage. Today’s small homosexual demonstration against those values is legally allowed, as long as they abide by the law.”
Kendrick stopped short of calling homosexuality a choice, but said he knew of a number of former homosexuals in his ministry who had changed their sexual orientation through prayer.
“Anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ can be forgiven and saved, no matter their history,” Kendrick said. “We just have to believe in Him and ask for His forgiveness.”