It was as if August 1 was an election day. Except the voters — people of faith, hundreds of thousands of them — didn’t go to polling places. They went to Chick-fil-A. And they weren’t voting with ballots. They were voting with their presence, and their wallets.
By now you’ve seen the photos of the phenomenal crowds, which swamped virtually every one of the 1,600 Chick-fil-A locations nationwide. We saw lines of cars stretching blocks in every direction. To show his support, one man from Oregon drove to the nearest Chick-fil-A, which was over 500 miles away in Roseville, Calif. People from Augusta, Maine, drove in a caravan two hours to Peabody, Mass., and then waited in line for hours. In St. Louis, a flash mob broke out singing, “I’m in love with Chick-fil-A.”
Across the nation, people took time out of their busy lives to make a statement: that they agreed with Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s CEO, that God’s definition of marriage should be respected and honored. Some days earlier, Cathy had told an interviewer, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
What happened next is all too familiar to those of us on the front lines of defending traditional marriage. Gay-marriage activists swung into action to punish Cathy and those who might express support for him. Many of the leaders of the movement to redefine marriage long ago gave up trying to persuade. Their strategy since Proposition 8 has been to harass and intimidate those who support traditional marriage — and to send a signal to others that they best keep quiet and abandon the battlefield. The gay blogger community went apoplectic with accusations that Cathy and Chick-fil-A were “anti-gay,” calling his comments “hateful” and “bigoted.” They claimed the company funded “hate groups” that aimed to “harm” gays and lesbians. The mainstream media dutifully reported the charges.
Predictably, prominent Democratic politicians piled on. The mayors of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., declared that Chick-fil-A would be banned from doing business in their cities. The entertainment industry got into the act as the Jim Henson Company announced they were withdrawing their partnership with the fast-food chain, and the media firestorm was on in full force. Leaders of the gay community were no doubt smugly enjoying the takedown of another traditional-marriage supporter.
They didn’t expect what happened next. People of goodwill reacted angrily. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called for a national Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which was designated for Wednesday, August 1. An early and outspoken defender of Dan Cathy and the company, I spoke on Governor Huckabee’s radio show and encouraged NOM’s supporters to show their support. Many of our folks showed up en masse on Wednesday, July 25 — a week before the official event. We received hundreds of photos of packed Chick-fil-A restaurants: an indication of the magnitude of the response we would see on August 1.
For the most part, the mainstream media ignored the growing reaction against the attempt by gay activists to slime Dan Cathy and hurt his business. News of the backlash was spread mainly by talk-radio hosts and conservatives using social media. Governor Huckabee’s Facebook page announcing the event garnered 20 million views. (The page — and everything else related to the Appreciation Day — mysteriously disappeared from Facebook as the movement was gaining momentum. Twelve hours later, after people had complained and inquired, the page was just as mysteriously restored. Facebook blamed it on an unexplained “mistake.”)
This isn’t the first time that supporters of traditional marriage have expressed themselves. The usual method is for them to cast ballots in state elections to preserve marriage. Over 46 million voters in 32 consecutive states have quietly voted to preserve traditional marriage. In no state election has same-sex marriage ever won.
But the public nature of Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day is different from the privacy of the voting booth. We heard from hundreds of people who were heartened to see the long lines — vivid confirmation that they are not alone, that a strong majority of Americans agree with them that the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is worth defending. People were grateful to belong to a community where they could openly meet with like-minded citizens and talk about marriage, family, and the truth of God’s design for society.
The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no way for gay-marriage activists to put it back. NOM has launched a call to Americans to eat at Chick-fil-A not just once, but every Wednesday through the election. It will benefit a noble family-owned business and, moreover, help people to build on the sense of community that so many of them were surprised to experience last week. We’re encouraging people to go to www.thankchickfila.com to register their support, and then to bring their family, friends, and church groups every Wednesday to enjoy some great chicken, and some wonderful camaraderie in the community of faith. Go before or after church services, have your Bible-study group meet at the restaurant, bring your book club, etc. Whatever you do on Wednesdays, do it at Chick-fil-A.
— Brian S. Brown is President of the National Organization for Marriage.