The privately owned chain, famous for closing on Sundays in deference to its founder's evangelical Christian values, donates to many Christian causes, scholarships, and organizations through its charitable arm.
But when a Pennsylvania restaurant donated sandwiches and brownies to a Harrisburg meeting of The Pennsylvania Family Group, a group that works to outlaw gay marriage, pro-gay marriage bloggers and gay rights organizations went on the offensive. The news quickly trickled into the mainstream. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton wrote about it, and so did the food blog Grub Street, with the headline "Chick-fil-A is anti-gay."
President Dan Cathy posted a video response to the company's Facebook page in early January, no doubt hoping to quell the controversy. "Chick-fil-A serves all people and values all people," Cathy said, adding that the donation did not serve as a political endorsement. UPDATE: Cathy now says Chick-fil-A will no longer donate to any organizations that take a political stand on marriage.
Thousands of people chimed in on Chick-fil-A's Facebook page, many of whom said they would support the chain even more because of the donation and the controversy around it.
"You have nothing to expain to your customers, we support your family values, and know that you mean no ill-will to those with other opinions," John Joyner wrote.
Others wrote that they would give up their favorite chicken with heavy hearts.
"I've eaten and loved chick all my life. I am sad that me and my entire family must denounce the Chick until you publicly apologize and make an equal and opposite donation to the Human Rights Campaign or other civil rights group," Rob Augino commented.
Some people wrestling between their stomachs and their beliefs painted their sacrifice in grandiose terms. "Never again will I enjoy your spicy chicken sandwich," writes one morose former fan on Twitter.
It's unclear how many people actually intend to shun the Georgia-based chain on the basis of its opposition to gay marriage--and what impact a consumer boycott will have on the company's bottom line. So far, students at Indiana University South Bend got the chain booted from campus, according to a post on Change.org, which hosts petitions against the chicken restaurant. (UPDATE: University administrators say Chick-fil-A is only suspended, not permanently banned, from campus, according to The South Bend Tribune.)
The company's anti-gay marriage donations go beyond the alliance in Pennsylvania. The WinShape Foundation, the company's charitable institution, and the Cathy family have donated millions to Christian organizations and causes, including some that campaign against gay marriage, The New York Times writes. A couples retreat operated by WinShape does not accept homosexual couples, according to the blog Good As You.
Other businesses have found themselves the center of controversy for wading into political debates. Target and Best Buy were boycotted this summer after they made donations to a group that backed Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who does not support gay rights. Target apologized for the donations.
(Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy: AP.)
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify that Target and Best Buy did not directly donate to Emmer.
- gay marriage
- Truett Cathy
- Human Rights Campaign
- Indiana University South Bend
- family values
- Grub Street