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Anti-gay marriage controversy draws crowd to local Chick-fil-As

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Updated: September 3, 2012 1:17PM

Call it “free speech chicken.”

For many who went to eat at Chicago-area Chick-fil-As Wednesday amidst calls to support the company president’s anti-gay marriage stance, it didn’t come down to whether they agreed with him or not.

Rather, they said, it was simply to show they supported Dan Cathy’s right to espouse his beliefs — beliefs that they said shouldn’t impact whether another Chick-fil-A should be allowed to open in the city.

“I came out to support freedom of speech,” said Bob Matter, a paralegal and self-described atheist, liberal and supporter of gay marriage. Matter, like hundreds of others, flocked to the Chick-fil-A at 30 E. Chicago. “There should be no government limits on what you believe.”

Support even came from members of the gay community like Amnwari Ndlay-Owusa, a South African who is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“As long as I don’t get discriminated against, I respect his opinion because it’s his opinion,” he said while eating at the restaurant with friends.

The supporters came out after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared the day national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” after Cathy said his Atlanta-based company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”

That unleashed a torrent of criticism from gay rights groups and others, including Chicago politicians, who have called for boycotts and efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.

More than 150 customers lined up outside the restaurant and more than 30 cars were parked in the two lanes of the drive-through around 12:30 p.m. at an eatery in Hobart, Ind. Hundreds of people also lined up before lunch at an Orland Park Chick-fil-A at 15605 S. LaGrange Rd.

Melissa Watson, of Midlothian, said she was picking up 25 sandwiches and orders of waffle fries for her husband Larry’s auto shop, Art’s Auto Rebuilders at 7400 S. Western. She had heard about the “appreciation day” through Huckabee.

“I hope they make tons of money,” Watson said. “It’s time we make a statement. People can’t control what we believe.”

“It’s like I’m in line to vote,” said Lincoln Park’s Richard David, 71, while waiting at the downtown eatery. “I’m voting for free speech.”

He added: “I’m supporting America. I also support gays, but I’m supporting free speech.”

Others saw the outpouring as a statement against gay marriage.

Terry Angela, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bourbonnais, brought a busload of 30 people to Orland Park.

Surveying the crowd, he declared “the average American, the bulk of the population, believes ... in the biblical definition of marriage. It’s proven today and it’s proven at the ballot box.”

While the stores couldn’t immediately say how many people they served Wednesday, downtown store owner Lauren Silich said her shop served “significantly more people” than usual.

Two of those were Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) and his mother, Camille.

“People have the right to say what they want and I have the right to support it,” he said. “I definitely want one in my ward. We need businesses like this.

Not everyone in the crowds backed the company.

Opponents of the company’s stance are planning “Kiss Mor Chiks” for Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country and kiss each other.

“I like their food, but I can’t support something like that,” Jon Salud, 25, of the Near West Side, said outside the downtown eatery.

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