Supporters of marriage equality rallied near Chick-fil-A restaurants across America on Friday and staged same-sex "kiss-ins" in response to Wednesday's 'Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.'
The crowds were much smaller Friday than on Wednesday, but the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) protesters, and their straight supporters, were visible and vocal in their opposition to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy's public repudiation of same-sex marriage and his company's contribution to Christian organizations that actively work to deny marriage equality to LGBT Americans and send missionaries to spread homophobia in developing countries.
Digital Journal was present at one Chick-fil-A "kiss-in" in Phoenix, Arizona. A group of about 20 protesters waved American and rainbow flags on a sidewalk in front of the restaurant, with the occasional couple exchanging kisses, while a much smaller group of around half a dozen counter-protesters stood just down the street with American flags and signs inscribed with biblical scripture and free-speech slogans.
A broad cross-section of Phoenix turned out to show their support for marriage equality. The atmosphere was festive, with one young mohawked man named Valentino handing out lollipops.
"Show your gayness, suck on this," he said as he offered everyone a Dum Dum.
At least one clergy member was present.
"It's about civil rights," Rev. Brad Wilson, of No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, replied when asked why he was there. "It's about human dignity."
"We're here to show our support for equality, and to let Chick-fil-A know that there are consequences to endorsing hate," a young woman who only gave her first name, Laura, said.
Just as she finished, a black SUV sped by. A young man leaning out the passenger side window flipped his middle finger to the protesters and shouted, "fuck the gays!"
The same vehicle passed by once again, going in the opposite direction, as the same young man yelled, "straight rights!"
Drivers or passengers in several passing vehicles expressed similar sentiments, although there were more horns honking in solidarity with the protesters.
Down the road, Sally Albrecht, a middle-aged woman standing with the counter-protesters and holding a sign that read, 'We support what the Bible teaches, and Dan Cathy,' said she harbored no hatred toward gays. "It's about freedom of speech," she insisted, saying she supported Cathy for "speaking his heart."
"When you lose the freedom to speak your mind, it's all over," she warned.
But Cathy, and Chick-fil-A through its WinShape charitable arm, have done more than just speak their minds. The company has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Chick-fil-A donated more than $1.7 million to such groups in 2009 alone. Among them are Focus on the Family, which believes that "the homosexual agenda is a beast" that "wants our kids" and the Family Research Council, which has falsely linked homosexuality to pedophilia and has openly called for criminal punishment of LGBT people.
Some of the Chick-fil-A-backed groups also send missionaries overseas to promote discrimination against gays, stoking homophobia in nations with severe criminal penalties for those who engage in gay sexual activity. They have inspired legislation in Uganda, where gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, that would have made execution the penalty for gay sex.
These are the activities that the massive crowds who came out to show their support for Chick-fil-A, including leading conservative politicians like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee-- who came up with the idea for 'Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day'-- were at least tacitly endorsing. The company, while not releasing exact sales figures, said it enjoyed a "record-setting" day on Wednesday.
Away from the Tatum Boulevard restaurant, locals and visitors expressed a mix of support and dismay for Chick-fil-A's backing of anti-gay hate groups.
Victoria Stachowicz, visiting from Alabama, blamed the media for all the controversy.
"If the news media didn't blow everything out of proportion, this wouldn't be an issue," the 56-year-old said.
Raechel Clevenger, a 36-year-old Christian mother of 5 from Phoenix, struck a balanced tone when she said that "both sides need to be tolerant of each other and spread love, not hate."
There were plenty of both to go around in Phoenix on Friday evening.