ATLANTA -- All of a sudden, biting into a fried chicken sandwich has become a political statement.

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits by closing on Sundays, is standing firm in its opposition to gay marriage after touching off a furor earlier this month.

Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids' meals, and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.

Across the Bible Belt, where most of the 1,600 restaurants are situated, Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."

The latest skirmish in the nation's culture wars began when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." In a later radio interview, he ratcheted up the rhetoric: "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.'"

That fired up gay rights advocates, including a group that waged a campaign against the company in recent years by publicizing $3 million in contributions that the Cathy family foundation has made to conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council.

"This solidifies Chick-fil-A as being closely aligned with some of the most vicious anti-gay voices in the country," said Carlos Maza of Equality Matters.

A Chicago alderman vowed to block a Chick-fil-A proposed in his district, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported him, saying, "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values." Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote in a letter to Cathy: "There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it."

In announcing it was pulling its toys, the Jim Henson company said it has "celebrated and embraced diversity for over 50 years." It directed its revenue from the Chick-fil-A toys to GLAAD, a leading gay rights organization.

On the other side of the debate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared next Wednesday "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" to support a business "whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values." Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who like Huckabee ran for president as a darling of social conservatives, joined the cause along with religious leaders.

"As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to `Eat Mor Chikin' and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday," the Rev. Billy Graham said in a statement, referring to the slogan in the company's ads, which feature cows urging people to eat poultry.

The Rev. Roger Oldham, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said many Christians want to support businesses owned by fellow believers, and the loyalty intensifies "when Christians see a fellow Christian being persecuted."

"They will come out of the woodwork when a theologically based position is being politicized by individuals for their own purposes," he said.

The Cathy family has never hid its Southern Baptist faith. Since Dan Cathy's father, Truett, opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967, the restaurants have been closed on Sundays, and the company refused to reconsider during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, sacrificing profits. It also boasts that the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the only college football bowl game with an invocation.

Chick-fil-A posted more than $4.1 billion in sales last year, most of it below the Mason-Dixon Line. Just 14 of its restaurants are in the six states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal. Massachusetts has just two locations, both more than 10 miles from Boston. Illinois, which does not have same-sex marriage, has around a dozen, though only one in Chicago.

The company is well-positioned to come through the criticism relatively unscathed, even if it loses new markets in the North and elsewhere, University of Georgia marketing professor Sundar Bharadwaj said. He said that is because Chick-fil-A basically reflects the politics of its customers.

At a downtown Atlanta Chick-fil-A on Thursday, customers were divided over the company's stance.

"If you're a Christian, you believe in the Bible. The Bible says homosexuality is wrong. (Cathy's) absolutely right," Marci Troutman said over her breakfast.

Her business partner, Steve Timpson, said he chose not to eat at Chick-fil-A: "You've got to be more tolerant if you're going to operate in the wider market in this country."

Nearby, Dustin Keller offered another view of Cathy: "It's his opinion. He's entitled to it. I'm just here to eat."

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  • Oreo

    In June 2012, Oreo posted a photo of a rainbow sextuple-stacked cookie to its <a href="https://www.facebook.com/oreo" target="_hplink">Facebook</a> page in honor of Pride month. While the responses were mostly positive, some commenters were outraged, even calling for a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/oreo-sees-support-backlash-boycott-gay-pride-rainbow-cookie-article-1.1103369" target="_hplink">boycott</a> of the product. Still, Basil Maglaris, Kraft's associate director of corporate affairs, <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-krafts-gay-pride-oreo-draws-20000-comments-some-flak-20120627,0,490983.story" target="_hplink">said</a> that the positive comments on the post "far outweighed" the negative ones.

  • Betty Crocker

    The staple of American domesticity is part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by the National Organization for Marriage</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. What better way to celebrate the stand against intolerance than Betty Crocker's <a href="http://www.bettycrocker.com/products/supermoist-cakes/products/supermoist cake mix/rainbow-chip" target="_hplink">Rainbow Chip</a> cake? <em>Correction on July 24 at 1:35pm ET: The original version of this slideshow misidentified the name of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. It has been corrected on this slide and several others throughout the slideshow.</em>

  • Levi's

    In 1992, Levi's found itself at odds with the Boy Scout's 'Three Gs' principle that had guided the Scouts' membership model for more than 80 years -- that everyone is welcome, provided they are not gay, godless, or a girl. San Francisco-based Levi's <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/boy-scouts-battle-on-antigay-policy-levis-the-denim-firm-has-withdrawn-its-sponsorship-over-the-movements-refusal-to-accept-homosexuals-writes-david-usborne-in-washington-1550450.html" target="_hplink">pulled its Boy Scout funding</a>, due to the group's exclusion. In response, Republican Dana Rohrabacher encouraged a 'grassroots' counter-boycott of Levi Strauss and his Texan colleage, Tom DeLay, was even more extreme in his reaction: "When Texans find out that the Levi's they have on go toward attacks on the Boy Scouts of America... they'll take off those Levi's and burn them in the streets."

  • Cheerios

    Not only will this breakfast cereal reduce your family's cholesterol but it will reduce your family's moral integrity as well, according to The National Organization for Marriage. As part of the General Mills family of products, Cheerios is one of the brands that has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

  • American Apparel

    In 2009, <a href="http://www.americanapparel.net/" target="_hplink">American Apparel</a> put its "Legalize Gay" t-shirt in storefront windows in Washinton, D.C. When a group of <a href="http://news.change.org/stories/american-apparel-pushes-back-against-anti-lgbt-vandalism" target="_hplink">anti-LGBT vandals broke the store's windows</a>, the company didn't back down, but rather agreed to send shirts to any group in D.C. that was fighting for gay rights.

  • Disney World

    Although Walt Disney World's <a href="http://www.gaydays.com/" target="_hplink">Gay Days</a> are not officially sanctioned by the theme park, they were the object of a <a href="http://floridafamily.org/full_article.php?article_no=158" target="_hplink">Florida Family Association warning</a>. The anti-LGBT group paid to have two planes fly over the park, with warning banners, to deter unsuspecting families from attending the park during Gay Days.

  • Starbucks

    In January 2012, when Starbucks released a <a href="http://www.dumpstarbucks.com/documents/memo.pdf" target="_hplink">memorandum</a> voicing support of gay marriage, NOM launched <a href="http://www.dumpstarbucks.com/" target="_hplink">DumpStarbucks.com</a> to urge people to boycott the coffee chain.

  • Wheaties

    As part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, there are attempts to dethrone Wheaties as the "Breakfast of Champions."

  • Tide Detergent

    In 2004, Procter and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Tide Detergent, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • Microsoft

    In 2005, Microsoft <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1490060/Religious-Right-to-boycott-Microsoft-over-support-for-gay-rights.html" target="_hplink">came under fire</a> from anti-LGBT activists, including evangelical preacher Ken Hutcherson, for its support of a bill in that would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals at work in the state of Washington. In response, Microsoft <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1490060/Religious-Right-to-boycott-Microsoft-over-support-for-gay-rights.html" target="_hplink">withdrew its support</a> of the bill, prompting outrage from gay and liberal activists and criticism from its staff and other big businesses. In response, Bill Gates backtracked again and admitted that he was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction. When the bill was defeated by a single vote, Microsoft's liberal critics blamed its withdrawal of support for the loss.

  • Home Depot

    A May 2012 <a href="http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521725" target="_hplink">post</a> on the American Family Association web site proclaims, "AFA is promoting a boycott of Home Depot until it agrees to remain neutral in the homosexual culture war. The total number of people who have signed the Home Depot boycott pledge is 719,037." The <a href="http://action.afa.net/item.aspx?id=2147496231" target="_hplink">pledge</a> condemns Home Depot for giving "financial and corporate support to open displays of homosexual activism," because this helps expose "small children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals and cross-dressers." In response to the <a href="http://action.afa.net/item.aspx?id=2147496231" target="_hplink">pledge</a>, which was delivered at Home Depot's annual shareholder meeting, Chairman Blake <a href="http://action.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521725" target="_hplink">responded</a>, "We are, and will remain, committed to a culture that fosters an inclusive environment for our associates, our customers and communities in which we exist."

  • Pampers Diapers

    Diapers are essential to fulfilling the straight family-making dream, which make them an odd target of a 'pro-family' boycott. However, in 2004, Proctor and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Pampers Diapers, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families, urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • PepsiCo Products

    After it was discovered that PepsiCo gave a combined $1,000,000 to the <a href="http://www.hrc.org/" target="_hplink">Human Rights Campaign</a> and <a href="http://community.pflag.org/page.aspx?pid=191" target="_hplink">PFLAG</a> (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to promote the so-called "homosexual lifestyle" in the workplace, the American Family Accociation posted a "<a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147483718" target="_hplink">Boycott Pepsi Pledge</a>," urging conservatives to stay away from Pepsi drinks, Frito Lay chips, Quaker Oats, and Gatorade.

  • Safeway

    In June of 2009, Safeway honored Pride by putting large gay/lesbian Pride posters in its stores across America. In response to this celebration of the "gay lifestyle," the American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147484828" target="_hplink">urged conservatives</a> to contact their local Safeway, and ask it to "stop promoting homosexuality," and "let Safeway know if they continue, you will consider grocery shopping with their competitors."

  • Crest Toothpaste

    In 2004, Procter and Gamble <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">angered conservatives</a> by opposing an anti-gay rights statute that would exempt gays and lesbians from special civil rights protection in its hometown of Cincinnati. In response, the American Family Association <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/17/news/fortune500/pg_gay_rights/" target="_hplink">issued a boycott</a> of some of P&G's most popular products, including Crest Toothpaste, and gathered petition signatures from almost 365,000 families, urging Procter & Gamble to change its policy.

  • Old Navy

    In 2011, when Old Navy planned to sell shirts to benefit the anti-suicide, anti-bullying <a href="http://www.itgetsbetter.org/" target="_hplink">It Gets Better</a> project, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/fischer-gays-ought-be-ashamed-national-borders-were-set-god" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to "drop by your Old Navy store in your community and tell them you're not going to shop at Old Navy until they get their minds right."

  • Girl Scouts

    In 2011, when The Girl Scouts decided to allow a transgender youth to participate, The American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147513279" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to contact Girl Scout leadership, "expressing your disappointment in their recent decision to allow boys as troop members," and to "let them know you will not support the Girl Scouts as long as it continues down a path of destructive policies."

  • Macy's

    In December 2011, a Macy's dressing room attendant prevented a transgender woman from using a female dressing room, because it violated her religious beliefs. After the woman was fired for refusing to abide by Macy's pro-LGBT policies, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147514523" target="_hplink">lamented</a>, "The LGBT agenda has become the theater of the absurd" and <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147514523" target="_hplink">urged</a> members to contact the Macy's headquarters to "express... outrage at this injustice to female employees and customers."

  • Target

    In May 2012, Target <a href="http://action.afa.net/uploadedImages/Activism/AFA_Action_Alerts/Action_Alert_Related_Items/targetpride.jpg" target="_hplink">announced</a> that 100% of the purchase price of any of its Pride merchandise would be donated to the pro-LGBT <a href="http://www.familyequality.org/" target="_hplink">Family Equality Council</a>. The American Family Association <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147521799" target="_hplink">lamented</a> that "Target is joining President Obama in ramming same-sex marriage down the throats of the American people" and urged members to contact Target Chairman Gregg Steinhafel, to "let him know that a majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage and are able to use their pocketbooks to voice their opposition to companies that support it." It should be noted that Target has also come under fire from gay advocates. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/08/lady-gaga-ends-target-lgbt_n_833209.html" target="_hplink">In 2011, Lady Gaga nixed a deal with Target</a> for an exclusive special edition of her "Born This Way" album after it was revealed that the brand had donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a group that was backing Tom Emmer's gubernatorial bid in Minnesota. Emmer was known for being especially conservative and not supporting equal rights for LGBT citizens.

  • J.C. Penney

    Aside from One Million Mom's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/ellen-degeneres-jc-penney_n_1247657.html" target="_hplink">infamous boycott</a> of the department store for choosing Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson, J.C. Penney also came under fire in June 2012 when its <a href="http://calendar.jcpenney.com/june/#!book/thebook/16" target="_hplink">catalog</a> featured two men on the floor playing and hugging their two children at home indicating, <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147522587" target="_hplink">according</a> to the American Family Association, that the company made a "departure from its moorings to God's Word and Mr. Penney's leadership by taking sides in the cultural war in celebration of homosexuality." The AFA <a href="http://www.afa.net/Detail.aspx?id=2147522587" target="_hplink">urged members</a> to "call or visit your local J. C. Penney store manager to politely inform them that you will not be shopping at their store this Father's Day," and added, "If you have a store credit card or hold stock with the J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE: JCP), you might consider closing your account and divesting until they become neutral in the culture war."

  • Pillsbury

    Pillsbury is part of the General Mills family of products, which has been <a href="http://www.dumpgeneralmills.com/?REF=EB120625NANT" target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

  • Walgreen's

    In 2006, Walgreen's was a Platinum-Level sponsor of the Chicago "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_Games" target="_hplink">Gay Games</a>." According to Tom Kovach of <a href="http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/kovach/060319" target="_hplink">RenewAmerica.com</a>, "by its very definition, the 'Gay' Games will invite people from all over the world to come to Chicago this summer and have homo-sex," and Walgreen's support contradicted it "squeaky-clean, family-friendly corporate image." Kovach wasn't alone in his condemnation -- the Illinois Family Institute <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-10-19/news/0510190382_1_walgreens-gay-games-vii-michael-polzin" target="_hplink">voiced opposition</a> and considered urging members to boycott the Pharmacy chain.

  • Ford

    In 2005, the American Family Association <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8047423/ns/business-us_business/t/another-swing-pocketbook/#.T-x3GCtSTDV" target="_hplink">launched a boycott campaign</a> against Ford for being "the company which has done the most to affirm and promote the homosexual lifestyle." The group criticized Ford for donating money to gay-rights organizations (Ford offered to give up to $1,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for every Jaguar and Land Rover it sells to a member of GLAAD) and complained that Ford had sponsored Pride celebrations, advertised in gay-oriented publications and was "redefining the definition of the family to include homosexual marriage."

  • Gap

    When Gap launched an ad campaign featuring two men pressed together under a shared t-shirt, anti-LGBT group One Million Moms, which is part of the American Family Association, launched a boycott, <a href="http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/gay-issues/one-million-moms-protests-gap-clothing-gay-billboard" target="_hplink">stating</a>, "GAP Inc. Brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, and Athleta, does not deserve, nor will it get, money from conservative families across the country. Supporting GAP is not an option until they decide to remain neutral in the culture war. GAP needs to seriously consider how their immoral advertising affect the youth of our nation."

  • Green Giant

    The frozen vegetable brand is part of the General Mills family of products, which, in June 2012, was <a href="DumpGeneralMills.com " target="_hplink">boycotted by NOM</a> for opposing the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.