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American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was the focus of controversy following a series of public comments made in June 2012 by chief operating officer Dan Cathy opposing same-sex marriage. This followed reports that Chick-fil-A's charitable endeavor, the S. Truett Cathy-family-operated WinShape Foundation, had made millions in donations to political organizations which oppose LGBT rights. LGBT rights activists called for protests and boycotts of the chain, while counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants. National political figures both for and against the actions spoke out and some business partners severed ties with the chain.
Chick-fil-A released a statement in July 2012 stating, "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." In March 2014, tax filings for 2012 showed the group stopped funding all but one organization which had been previously criticized.
In January 2011, the media reported that the American fast food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A was co-sponsoring a marriage conference along with the Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI), an organization that had filed an amicus brief against striking down Proposition 8 in California (see Perry v. Brown). PFI had also lobbied against a state effort to ban discrimination in Pennsylvania on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Responding on its official company Facebook page, Chick-fil-A said that support of the PFI retreat had come from a local franchisee, stating "We have determined that one of our independent restaurant operators in Pennsylvania was asked to provide sandwiches to two Art of Marriage video seminars."
The WinShape Foundation, a charitable endeavor of Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his family, stated it would not allow same-sex couples to participate in its marriage retreats. Chick-fil-A gave over $8 million to the WinShape Foundation in 2010. Equality Matters, an LGBT watchdog group, published reports of donations by WinShape to various anti-gay organizations, including $2 million in 2009, $1.9 million in 2010 and a total of $5 million since 2003, including grants to the Family Research Council and Georgia Family Council. WinShape has also contributed to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Exodus International, an organization noted for supporting ex-gay conversion therapy.
The Marriage and Family Foundation received $994,199 in 2009 and $1,188,380 in 2010. The Family Research Council, an organization listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Winter 2010, received $1000.
Tax filings for 2012 showed that Chick-fil-A created a new foundation, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, to grant to outside groups. It funded only one previous group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Other filings for WinShape Foundation showed no funding for groups opposed to LGBT rights.
"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'. 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."
The following month, on July 2, Biblical Recorder published an interview with Dan Cathy, who was asked about opposition to his company's "support of the traditional family." He replied: "Well, guilty as charged." Cathy continued:
"We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. ... We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized. "We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."
The day after the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, Dan Cathy tweeted, "Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies." The tweet was subsequently deleted, but was archived by Topsy.
More recently, in March 2014, Cathy admitted regret over drawing his company into the controversy.
The publicizing of Chick-fil-A's contributions to groups opposed to LGBT rights, reinforced by Dan Cathy's statements, spawned reactions and counter-reactions that received widespread media coverage.
After the publication of Cathy's interviews, Thomas Menino, the Mayor of Boston, stated that he would not allow the company to open franchises in the city "unless they open up their policies.” Menino subsequently wrote a letter to Dan Cathy, citing Cathy's earlier statement on The Ken Coleman Show and responded: "We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom for all people." In Chicago, alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno announced his determination to block Chick-fil-A's bid to build a second store in the city: "They'd have to do a complete 180", Moreno said in outlining conditions under which he would retract the block. "They'd have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from [Cathy]."
Moreno received backing from Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values", Emanuel said in a statement. "They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty." San Francisco soon followed suit on July 26 when mayor Edwin M. Lee tweeted, "Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn't share San Francisco's values & strong commitment to equality for everyone." Lee followed that tweet with "Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer."
The proposed bans in Boston and Chicago drew criticism from liberal pundits, legal experts and the American Civil Liberties Union. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine said "[T]here's really no excuse for Emanuel's and Menino's actions... you don't hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway." UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh observed, "[D]enying a private business permits because of such speech by its owner is a blatant First Amendment violation." Echoing those views were Glenn Greenwald of Salon, professor John Turley of George Washington University, Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney with the ACLU and Michael C. Dorf, the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School.
Students at several colleges and universities launched efforts to ban or remove the company's restaurants from their campuses. On November 3, 2011, the New York University Student Senators Council voted 19 to 4 to retain the Chick-fil-A franchise on campus. This vote came before a petition with over 11,000 signatures opposing its presence on campus was sent to the student council. On February 28, 2012, the Northeastern University (NU) student senate passed a resolution to cancel plans for a Chick-fil-A franchise on campus, stating that "the student body does not support bringing CFA [Chick-fil-A] to campus", and "Student concerns reflected CFA's history of donating to anti-gay organizations." The vote was 31 to 5, with 8 abstaining. The restaurant chain was finalizing a contract to bring it to NU when students protested. Davidson College in North Carolina announced on August 13, 2011 that, in response to a petition which received 500 signatures, the school will stop serving Chick-fil-A on campus at the monthly After Midnight events.
Other forms of protest occurred. Gay rights activists organized a "Kiss Off" to occur on August 3, an event where LGBT individuals would show affection in public, but it attracted smaller-than-hoped-for crowds.
On August 15, 2012, a gunman attempted to enter the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Family Research Council, carrying 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, a 9 mm handgun and a box of ammunition. He shot a security guard in the left arm, and following his arrest he told police that he wanted to use the sandwiches to "make a statement against the people who work in that building ... and with their stance against gay rights and Chick-fil-A", and that he planned "to kill as many people as I could ... then smear a Chicken-fil-A [sic] sandwich on their face".
In response to the July 2 interview, the Jim Henson Company, which had entered its Pajanimals in a kids' meal toy licensing arrangement in 2011, said that it would cease its business relationship with Chick-fil-A, and donate payment for the brand to Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Citing safety concerns, Chick-fil-A stopped distributing the toys. A spokeswoman stated the decision had been made July 19 and was unrelated to the controversy.
In August 2012, progressive groups delivered petitions with over 80,000 signatures to publisher HarperCollins demanding that the publisher cut plans to include Berenstain Bears titles as part of a kids' meal promotion. Upon being presented with petitions demanding that Berenstain Bears be pulled from a Chick-fil-A promotion, HarperCollins issued a statement saying "We have a long history of diversity and inclusiveness and work tirelessly to protect the freedom of expression. It is not our practice to cancel a contract with an author, or any other party, for exercising their first amendment rights."
In response to the controversy, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee initiated a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day movement to counter a boycott of Chick-fil-A launched by same-sex marriage activists. More than 600,000 people RSVPed on Facebook for Huckabee's appreciation event.
On August 1, Chick-fil-A restaurants experienced a large show of public support across the nation with the company reporting record-breaking sales. A consulting firm projected that the average Chick-fil-A restaurant increased sales by 29.9 percent and had 367 more customers than a typical Wednesday.
USA Today conducted a poll asking, "What's your reaction to recent anti-gay comments made by the president of Chick-fil-A?" 53% said they are boycotting, 43% said they would continue to eat their food and 5% were undecided. In August 2012 Rasmussen Reports published the results of a telephone survey indicating that 61 percent of likely voters held a favorable view of Chick-fil-A, while 13 percent indicated they would participate in a boycott.
Other notable public figures have come to Chick-fil-A's defense including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former US Senator Rick Santorum, and Ann Coulter; while others, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the American Civil Liberties Union have not condoned Dan Cathy's views on marriage but have defended his right to express them.
Sales soared following the controversy. Sales increased "12 percent, to $4.6 billion, in 2012. The good fortune follows several years of impressive expansion and strong sales, which have pushed the privately held company's valuation north of $4.5 billion, making billionaires out of its founders." "These latest sales data are just further proof that all that negative coverage didn't hurt demand for chicken sandwiches among Chick-fil-A's core consumers." 
In September 2012, The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) announced that Chick-fil-A has "ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBT civil rights." According to the TCRA, Chick-fil-A officials stated in an internal document that they "will treat every person equally, regardless of sexual orientation." In a letter from Chick-fil-A's Senior Director of Real Estate, the company states, "The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas."
According to Chicago Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, Chick-fil-A has a statement of respect for all sexual orientations in an internal document called Chick-fil-A: Who We Are and has promised that its not-for-profit arm, WinShape, would not contribute money to groups that oppose gay marriage.
According to Focus on the Family web site, CitizenLink.com, "Chick-fil-A and its charitable-giving arm, the WinShape Foundation, did not agree to stop making donations to groups that support the biblical definition of marriage in exchange for being allowed to open a franchise in Chicago." Mike Huckabee stated that he "talked earlier today personally with Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick Fil-A about the new reports that Chick Fil-A had capitulated to demands of the supporters of same sex marriage. This is not true. The company continues to focus on the fair treatment of all of its customers and employees, but to end confusion gave me this statement." The statement provided by Chick-fil-A was posted on Huckabee's website.
In March 2014, new tax filings from 2012 showed Chick-fil-A stopped funding all but one organization which had been previously criticized. The company also created a new foundation, the Chick-fil-A Foundation, to fund outside groups. WinShape Foundation's 2012 tax filings showed funding only for its own programs, a Berry College scholarship fund and Lars WinShape, a home for needy children in Brazil.