People across the country flocked to Chick-fil-A today, not because of the fast-food chain's chicken sandwiches, but because of its CEO's vocal support of traditional marriage.
In Augusta, Ga., the local outlet ran out of food and had to close early as many of the chain's stores reported record crowds. CEO Dan Cathy appeared at a Fayetteville, N.C., Chick-fil-A to thank cutomers for dining there.
More than 630,000 supporters signed up to celebrate Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day today, which former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee created to counter a boycott launched by gay marriage activists last week after Cathy said he was "guilty as charged" for not supporting gay marriage.
"The goal is simple," Huckabee wrote on the Facebook page for the event. "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."
At the Chick-fil-A restaurant in Crystal City, Virginia - the closest non-University franchise to Washington, D.C. - a steady line snaked down the block for nearly three hours as supporters lined up for the anti-boycott. The line was long but peaceful. There were no protestors, no signs, no shouting and no crowd control necessary.
Courtney Clem, 22, strolled over to the Chick-fil-A in Crystal City, Va., to pick up lunch for her entire office and show her support. Clem said she wanted to eat at Chick-fil-A today not only because she supports traditional marriage but because she supports the First Amendment.
"We want to support their right to an opinion," Clem said. "I do support that opinion. And the right. Even if it was an opinion I disagreed with, I'd be here today."
Clem said the Appreciation Day has been a success because Chick-fil-A supporters are responding to the opposition "causing such a stink about it, getting so upset about him voicing his opinion."
"I think it's more about people frankly being offended that people are offended," she said before hauling a tote-sized bag of chicken sandwiches out the door.
Amy Bazill and her three sons walked 45 minutes to the Crystal City Chick-fil-A to show their support for a company that shares their Christian beliefs.
"A lot of us I think, we believe that our country has made a lot of poor choices and it's nice just to support someone who supports the same things that we do," Bazill said.
But not all passersby were supportive of Chick-fil-A. Beth Matt, 27, who walked past Chick-fil-A's long line on her way to work, said the conservative-backed appreciation day was "not something I want to be a part of."
"Don't get me wrong I like the food," Matt said. "But this is just outrageous."
Matt said she did not support Cathy's traditional marriage comments but was not surprised they made such a stir.
"I guess were getting toward an election season and things are just going to get more and more polarized so sure let Chick-fil-A be another martyr," Matt said. "Chick-fil-A is just another silly thing that people can get polarized about and make arguments about."
"It makes me kind of sad," Matt added. "I really like their chicken!"
But the recent outcry nor the company's support for traditional marriage are going to keep Matt away from "really good chicken" forever.
"Maybe after this dies down, maybe after November I'll come back to Chick-fil-A," she said.
The chicken chain CEO's comments that he supports "the biblical definition of the family unit" did not come as a surprise to many of the patrons celebrating Chick-fil-A apprecaiation day. Cathy's restaurant is closed on Sundays and supports a nonprofit ministry foundation.
"Everyone knows its a Christian organization," Ellen Guarente told ABC News while holding a bag of waffle fries outside the Crystal City Chick-fil-A. "What he was saying wasn't inflamatory... but suddenly it was taken out of context and twisted and suddenly it became something that was very ugly and very derrogatory and it was so unnecessary. Free speech cuts both ways."
Nevertheless, Cathy's traditional marriage remarks have become a rallying cry for activists on both sides of the marriage debate over the past week.
Gay rights groups launched a national boycott of the chicken chain last week, which the mayors of Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., have publically supported.