BURLINGTON — Hundreds of people jammed into the Burlington Mall’s food court Wednesday at the Chick-fil-A to support and dine at the controversial fast-food chain and to voice opposition to efforts from the mayor of Boston to block the restaurant from locating in the city.
In a nationwide event dubbed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, scores waited in a line that spilled outside the court’s perimeter, with an attendance so high that mall security maintained a constant watch.
Over 650,000 people responded to Huckabee’s invitation to appreciation day on Facebook.
“The mayor of Boston says he won’t allow Chick-fil-A in Boston,” said Huckabee in an ad supporting the chain on his Facebook event page. “Amazing that a mayor now has the power to stop commerce because he personally disagrees with the PERSONAL views of the CEO of a company.”
Dan T. Cathy, chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, is accused of supporting antigay marriage efforts, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston sparked controversy when he spoke out against the restaurant’s efforts to open in Boston.
On Wednesday, many of those visiting the Chick-fil-A in Burlington echoed Huckabee’s opinion.
“This is not a protest,” said Chuck Hanafin, 57, of Burlington, as he waited in the massive line. “It’s a show of support.”
A Chick-fil-A spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, but a response was posted on the chain’s website that stated the company treats everyone with “honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. . . . Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
“If you listen to Mayor Menino’s original statement,’’ Hanafin said, “he says [Chick-fil-A] will not be coming to Boston. He’s trying to use more authority than he has. But it’s all a game of politics.” Hanafin said he stood in the long line because “One, they have great food. And two, this is a company based on morals . . . and family values.”
He praised Cathy’s strong religious roots in the chain’s way of business, referencing that Chick-fil-A was always closed on Sundays. Hanafin also felt that the attack on the company and Cathy was uncalled for.
Cathy “is simply making a statement on the definition of marriage. And my definition is the same as his: Marriage should be between a man and a woman,” Hanafin said. Hanafin also felt Menino was “morally, ethically, politically, and every-kind-of-way wrong” to argue for keeping the chain out of Boston.
Cathy told the The Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, on July 16 that his company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”
When the company recently began considering the idea to build an establishment in Boston, Menino wrote a letter on July 20 to Cathy asking the company to reconsider.
“There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman from Menino’s office said the mayor had no comment Wednesday on the appreciation day event.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a prominent gay-rights activist group, has backed a counterprotest to the appreciation day scheduled for Friday.
“We are also highlighting the National Same Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A,” wrote the alliance on its website, describing the event encouraging same-sex expressions of affection at the chicken chain’s locations. The alliance could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Some who came to Appreciation Day were more focused on the rights of commerce than on same-sex marriage.
Julia Moszka, 49, of Methuen, came by with her husband and two children. “I’m here because I think Mayor Menino did a stupid thing,” said Moszka. “I’ve never been to Chick-fil-A until today. I’m supporting free enterprise.”
She said it was not about the politics, but about Menino’s actions being “way out of line.”
She added: “I’m standing up against the machine.”
Derek J. Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Melanie Dostis can be reached at email@example.com.