Two-and-a-half weeks after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy said his company opposes same-sex marriage, the heated debate over his words still rages.
Wednesday was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, created by former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who was incensed by protests after Cathy told the Baptist Press his company supports "the biblical definition of the family unit."
There were long lines at Chick-fil-A's across the nation as patrons queued up to support the chain as well as the right to free speech.
Politicians and advocacy groups have cited Cathy's comments in the ongoing debate over gay marriage. The brand once associated mainly with chicken sandwiches and a quirky "Eat Mor Chikin" slogan is now in the political cauldron.
Chick-fil-A issued a statement three days after Cathy's comments: "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena." Yet, the company remains in the headlines.
"This a huge challenge for companies (and) brands today. We are one country divided by politics," says marketing consultant Laura Ries. "Coming out strongly on one side or the other is hitting the third rail of branding."
A company should be true to its values but also has to consider the consequences before engaging in controversy, Ries says.
As a general rule, its religion and politics that can get consumers into a lather. "It's like talking at a dinner party," she says.
The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay unions, urged a boycott when General Mills and Starbucks came out in favor of same-sex marriage.
Even with potential repercussions, some companies and executives openly support gay rights. Washington United for Marriage, a coalition opposing a ballot measure that would invalidate a gay marriage law in that state, has announced that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, will donate $2.5 million to its cause.
Other firms believe political issues aren't their domain.
Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan is linked with conservative Catholic causes, but his firm avoided those issues. He sold the company in 1998.
Domino's stance is to stay out of public debate, and just focus on its products, says spokesman Tim McIntyre: "We're not a religious company. We're not a political company. We're a pizza company."
By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY