NORTHRIDGE (CBS) — Supporters gathered at a San Fernando Valley Chick-fil-A restaurant Wednesday morning to rally behind the chain after its president recently said he does not support gay marriage.
The San Fernando Valley Patriots, an affiliate of the national Tea Party, held the rally and ate breakfast at 7 a.m. at a Chick-fil-A in the 8800 block of Tampa Avenue.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee created a Facebook page calling for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" on Aug. 1 after the chain's President, Dan Cathy, came under fire for his stance on same-sex marriage.
But Huckabee told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that freedom of speech and not same-sex marriage is at the core of this controversy.
"This really isn't about the chicken, it's not even about the product, it's just about whether the person who is the executive of a company can still speak his mind," said Huckabee. "We expect that every day from the CEOs of Apple and Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's, and it ought to be the same set of rules applied to a person who is a conservative, and in this case, an evangelical Christian."
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy has said he believes in a Biblical interpretation of marriage as between a man and a woman. The chain reportedly donated millions to anti-gay marriage groups in recent years, according to Equality Matters.
Chick-fil-A also has a history of applying Biblical principles to its business, such as closing stores on Sundays.
The company issued a statement Wednesday distancing themselves from Huckabee's cause.
"Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not created by Chick-fil-A," Steve Robinson, Executive Vice President of Marketing, said. "We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: to provide great food, genuine hospitality and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A."
But on Wednesday, dozens of protesters had gathered at locations throughout Southern California and around the nation, including a store on Tampa Boulevard in Northridge, where Mary Helen McFarland from the San Fernando Valley Patriots told KNX 1070's Pete Demetriou the issue is very simple in her mind.
"This man has the courage to stand up and back what he says, and also this is America, we have a right to say what we wanna say in our business, this is his business," said McFarland.
Gay and lesbian activists are also asking supporters to donate the cost of a Chick-fil-A meal to their organizations.
And while Huckabee endorsed the gay community's right to exercise their Constitutional rights, he noted they continue to deny that same privilege to executives like Cathy.
"I think in America we gotta make room for people to have different points of view," he said. "Supposedly that's what tolerance and diversity is, it's not trying to shut out voices that we don't agree with, which is exactly what people try to do to Dan Cathy and Chik-fil-A."
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