Chick-fil-A Quick to Head Off Potential Gay-Marriage Controversy

Dan Cathy's Views Haven't Changed, but Company's Reaction Time Has

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Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy
Chick-Fil-A's Dan Cathy

Another summer, another Chick-fil-A gay-marriage controversy? Not if the chicken chain can help it.

On Wednesday, after the Supreme Court issued its rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8, Chick-fil-A President-Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy tweeted his thoughts on the matter: "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 politically charged comment was quickly deleted, but not before being noticed by blogs and news outlets.

But the swift deletion is also a move that signals that the fast-growing company, which called Mr. Cathy's tweet a "personal comment," is attempting to keep quiet on hot-button policy issues to avoid more PR headaches -- especially as it moves beyond its Southeast origins, expanding to urban areas like New York and Chicago.

A spokesman for the company said in a statement Thursday afternoon: "Yesterday, President and COO of Chick-fil-A Dan Cathy tweeted a personal comment upon hearing the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. Dan recognizes his views do not necessarily represent the views of all Chick-fil-A customers, restaurant owners and employees, so he removed the tweet to eliminate any confusion. At Chick-fil-A, we are focused on providing great-tasting food and genuine hospitality to everyone."

The response was a much swifter one than last year's reaction to comments by Mr. Cathy that led to a weeks-long controversy.

Last summer, Mr. Cathy spawned a controversy when he affirmed the company's support of what he considers traditional marriage in an interview. "Guilty as charged," Mr. Cathy told Baptist Press last summer. "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."

A wave of outrage by marriage-equality activists followed, and the controversy went on for nearly two weeks.

Chick-fil-A supporters in line at a mall location last year.
Chick-fil-A supporters in line at a mall location last year.

Gay rights activists spoke out, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation organized an event called National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A on Facebook. ln response, former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee organized an event on Facebook called Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, which resulted in a "record-setting" sales day.

Another controversy may have led to another round of great sales in established regions, but as the company moves into urban areas it will need to court a new demographic. During last year's dust-up, a number of big-city politicians--including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino--voiced their opposition to Chick-fil-A opening in their areas. Mr. Menino went so far as to saying he'd block permits before backing down.

The company vowed last year to stay out of politics, saying: "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." But the quick deletion of the tweet could be a sign that Mr. Cathy, whose opinions haven't changed, sees the business sense in such a policy. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Mr. Cathy tweeted that he was in New York yesterday looking for possible locations.

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