Thousands storm Chick-fil-A in support of CEO's defense of marriage. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Local Catholics today joined thousands of Americans who ate at Chick-Fil-A in support of the sanctity of marriage and the freedom of speech.

By 11 a.m., lines of people were already out the door and wrapped around the building at Valley locations.

The restaurant's CEO, Dan Cathy, recently made statements supporting the traditional, biblical understanding of marriage. Initially his remarks resulted in a firestorm of protests from those accusing the head of the fast food franchise of being intolerant. Cathy made his remarks July 16 to The Baptist Press.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said. Same-sex marriage advocates and politicians throughout the U.S. were quick to peg Cathy as a bigot and a homophobe.

Former presidential candidate and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee then stepped into the fray, calling on fellow Americans to eat at Chick Fil-A on Aug. 1.

Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, said he made a brief announcement after Masses July 29, telling parishioners about cities where leaders vowed to make it difficult for Chick-fil-A to do business as a result of the CEO’s view of marriage.  Leaders in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities criticized Chick-fil-A, some going so far as to say the business was not welcome.

Philadelphia City Councilman James Kenny sent a letter to Cathy, telling him to “take a hike and take your intolerance with you.”

“This should be a chilling warning for us that if a person’s ability to make a living is going to be restricted by their personal religious beliefs, all the more reason that we need to take a stand publicly in defense of marriage and in defense of Christian marriage,” Fr. Lankeit said.

He went a step further in telling parishioners that he would reimburse the cost for one meal for any Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and School staff member who ate at Chick-fil-A Aug. 1.

“When I made that announcement, two different families came up and gave me money to help offset that cost,” Fr. Lankeit said.

View photos of the national “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on Facebook

Cathy Chrisman of Ss. Simon and Jude planned to go with her husband and three children to eat at the Paradise Valley Chick-fil-A franchise today.

“We are going to bring our family really just to show support for this organization that is being attacked for their stance on marriage and upholding Christian values,” Chrisman said.  “Knowing that Chik-fil-A has a pro-marriage stance and other businesses do not, we would be much more likely to go to someplace that would support Christian marriage between a man and a woman.”

Chrisman said the key point for her was that city governments would consider turning away Chick-fil-A based on the CEO’s stance on marriage.

“It makes me angry as a Catholic, but it makes me even more angry as an American, knowing that freedom is being taken away from somebody,” Chrisman said.  “It’s about upholding that freedom in everything that we do.”

Mike Phelan, director of the Office of Marriage and Respect Life Issues for the Diocese of Phoenix, said he and his staff as well as several other diocesan employees, enjoyed take-out from Chick-dil-A Aug. 1.

“I’ve admired their company for a long time, most of all because they close on Sundays,” Phelan said. “They are not afraid to admit their love of Jesus Christ. When they were attacked so viciously for simply affirming not what they’re against, but what they are for — God’s creation of marriage between one man and one woman — we thought it was something we would naturally participate in.”

Genny Jones, a longtime traditional marriage activist, also ate at a Mesa Chick-fil-A.

“We need to take our faith to the public square and this is my way of expressing support to the Cathy family for their support of biblical principles,” Jones said.

Cardinal Francis George, OMI, archbishop of Chicago, issued a written statement in response to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s public skewering of Chick-fil-A. Emmanuel complained Chick-fil-A did not represent Chicago values.

“I was born and raised here, and my understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval. Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city?” Cardinal George wrote in his blog,