STRONGSVILLE, Ohio -- Throngs of people weighed in on the Chick-fil-A debate at stores in northeast Ohio and across the rest of the United States on Wednesday, buying chicken sandwiches to show their support for the restaurant chain and its president’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Lines at the Strongsville drive-thru and counter spilled into the streets around the lunch hour.
"The CEO came out and said what he thought and what he believed and that's not hate,” said Barbara Rickettes from Parma Heights. “That's not against anybody, that's just what he believes."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee dubbed it “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” He called for a vocal response to the backlash against the fast food restaurants and their president.
The controversy erupted after an interview with the fast food restaurant chain’s president and COO, Dan Cathy, appeared in The Baptist Press on July 16 and he weighed in with his views on family.
“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.”
On a Facebook page Huckabee created announcing the event, more than 620,000 people said they would participate.
“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 on Wednesday, August 1,” wrote Huckabee, a former pastor.
Lines snaked around a Chick-fil-A in Dallas, patrons packed a Chick-fil-A in Smyrna, Georgia and a food court with a Chick-fil-A was flooded in Laurel, Mississippi.
On Facebook, fans posted photos of themselves holding bags emblazoned with the restaurant chain’s bright red logo.
Edwin Guzman waited about 30 minutes for his lunch at a “crazy packed” Chick-fil-A in Clarksville, Tennessee.
“It’s really hard to find people or leaders that stand for something good and stay firm,” he said of the restaurant chain.
"I was excited to see how many people said, 'You know, this is ridiculous,'" said Phyllis Harris, Director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland.
She told Fox 8 News she respects a company representative’s right to free speech. She's especially grateful for the attention the debate has brought to the services her organization provides.
"I just want to move on, I want to do the work, I want to be able to provide good services, I want to have allies, said Harris.
Chick-fil-A's executives no doubt feel the same way. A company spokesperson issued a statement that read in part:
“The Chick-fil-A culture and 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… Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
(The CNN Wire contributed to this report)