FORT WORTH — Faithful customers flocked to Chick-fil-A restaurants across Tarrant County and the nation on Wednesday in a massive show of support for Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy, who has been under fire for his stance against gay marriage.Lines to inside counters snaked outside at numerous restaurants around lunchtime, even as temperatures soared past 100 degrees, and vehicles in the drive-throughs poured onto outside streets, causing traffic jams.Don Powell said his wife tried to go to the Chick-fil-A in Lake Worth, but the traffic was so thick that "she couldn't get anywhere near it.""And that was at 1:20 in the afternoon -- after the lunch hour."Powell said police had to direct traffic around the restaurant.At the Chick-fil-A in Montgomery Plaza in Fort Worth, Melanie Maxwell said she ate there to show support for the chain's owners' Christian beliefs."I came out today because I know the Chick-fil-A owners are Christian and they were taking a stand against gay marriage," she said.Another customer, Tracy Gingras, described the crowds as "crazy," but said "everyone was very polite."The show of support comes on the heels of an interview in which Cathy said he believes in the biblical definition of marriage. Many same-sex marriage advocates criticized Cathy for his comments and have been pushing people to boycott the chain, which is well-known for its "Eat Mor Chikin" advertising campaign.On Friday, protesters are planning to participate in a National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A restaurants.In response to the criticism, Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was launched on Facebook and other social media networks by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee."No one is being asked to make signs, speeches or openly demonstrate," Huckabee said in a news release. "The goal is simple: Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles."Besides showing up at restaurants, both supporters and critics voiced their opinions on Twitter, where the topic was trending.Chick-fil-A released a statement on its website, saying it was not responsible for the event."Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was created by our fans, not Chick-fil-A," Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A's executive vice president of marketing, said. "We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: to provide great food, genuine hospitality, and to have a positive influence on all who come in to Chick-fil-A."Officials at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary participated in the event by purchasing 250 sandwiches from the Chick-fil-A at Altamesa Boulevard and McCart Avenue in Fort Worth."For us, it was about supporting freedom of religion, First Amendment rights and the biblical view of marriage," said Thomas White, vice president for student services and communication at the seminary.White said the huge outpouring of support shows that the "traditional, biblical view of marriage still is the predominant view of most Americans."At the Watauga Chick-fil-A, Sonny Boston said that the crowd was overwhelming but "that everyone seemed to be having a good time." Boston, who said he supports the Tea Party, said the turnout sends a message about what people believe in.He said he participated in the appreciation day "because it is the right thing to do.""It's going on everywhere. I talked to my son in Atlanta and he said the Chick-fil-A's there were packed as well," Boston said.At the Chick-fil-A on Pipeline Road in Hurst, Kami Meredith of North Richland Hills said the turnout was a strong validation of her faith."I think people underestimate the Christian community," Meredith said. ""We stand together better than people think."JoLaunda Adams of Fort Worth, standing in line at the Rufe Snow Drive restaurant, said "no one should be punished or have their business taken away from them for standing up for what they believe in."Not everyone, however, was interested in making a statement."What's going on?" a woman shouted out her window as her SUV was boxed in by the drive-through line at Montgomery Plaza. "I can't even get out of here!"Staff writers Lee Williams and Mitch Mitchell contributed to this report.
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689; Twitter: @albranch1