Steady streams of people purchased meals at area Chick-fil-A restaurants Wednesday during an "appreciation day" for the fast-food establishment -- the owner of which said he supports marriage only between a man and a woman.
Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press in July that the company supports "the biblical definition of the family unit."
That statement, along with company donations to groups that advocate against same-sex marriage, have drawn criticism from gay rights advocates and politicians including Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- who told WTAE last week that he "couldn't disagree more with Chick-fil-A in their position."
Thomas Menino, the mayor of Boston, wrote in a letter to Mr. Cathy that the Atlanta-based restaurant was not welcome in his city.
Responding to such criticism, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee used Facebook to create an "appreciation" event to "affirm a business that operates on Christian principles." Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also supported the endeavor, writing on Twitter that he ate at Chick-fil-A for lunch Wednesday.
He wasn't the only one.
Outside Chick-fil-A's crowded Waterfront location, customers said they had come to support the right of Chick-fil-A owners to express their views.
Jim Carloss, 70, of McKeesport, who was at Chick-fil-A for the first time Wednesday, said that the owners "have a right to run a business without somebody trying to shut them down or tell them what to do or impose their views on them." Mr. Carloss said he believes marriage is between a man and woman only.
Brandon Davis, 31, of East Liberty, said he is not opposed to same sex marriage but came to support the restaurant because he believes in the importance of free speech.
Critics of Chick-fil-A said they are not opposed to free speech. However, they believe that consumers should know about the company's donations to groups that fight same-sex marriage.
"The profits of Chick-fil-A are used to fund some pretty anti-gay things," said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, a gay rights group based in Harrisburg. "The support they give basically damages people's lives and it perpetuates the belief that [gay people] are in some way second class.
"That's not denying anyone the freedom of speech. It's just educating people. That's all it is," he said.
Many people in the Pittsburgh area seemed determined to show their support for the restaurant Wednesday, however.
Karen Stetson of Wexford said she and her teenaged daughter drove to the location in Cranberry, where cars waited in line to purchase food and make a statement. "We're here specifically to show support for Chick-fil-A, but we're also here to demonstrate our commitment to our constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion," she said.
Ray DeVito, owner of a franchise in Pleasant Hills, said that Wednesday was the busiest day he had seen since opening his eatery five years ago.
Chick-fil-A said that since the day was not a company-sponsored event, it would not be tracking sales numbers.
And in a statement released Tuesday, it said: "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."
Marcus Schwarz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1964. Staff writer Karen Kane contributed.