Chick-fil-A fast food restaurants across the US were flooded by customers on Wednesday to support its owners’ public rejection of same-sex marriage.

Many branches had long queues of customers lining up to eat at the chain.

The mass turnout was prompted by the ‘Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day’ campaign launched by former Arkansas Governor and presidential contender Mike Huckabee in which Conservatives and Christians opposed to gay marriage were urged to eat at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday.

“I call it hater appreciation day. It’s very, very depressing,” a gay 24-year-old employee at a northern Alabama Chick-fil-A, who refused to be identified for fear of being fired, told the Huffington Post.

The company, with over 1,600 outlets, came under fire after its CEO Dan T. Cathy denounced same-sex marriage, saying that the family-owned fast food chain backed the “biblical definition” of the family and that it had financially supported anti-gay groups.

The issue has exploded into a political and pop cultural furore in the US, with celebrities, politicians and ordinary people speaking out about the controversy.

In Chicago, Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for stating that the fast food chain’s values “are not 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,” said Cardinal George.

Other officials in cities such as Boston, San Francisco and New York, have come out against Chick-fil-A’s views and some have even pledged to stop the company from building restaurants in their areas.

Despite the apparent public show of support for the company’s anti-gay views on Wednesday, a new poll indicated that Chick-fil-A’s image among American consumers had actually dropped dramatically.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported that, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex, Chick-fil-A’s brand perception among consumers had dropped by more than 20 points since Cathy replied “guilty as charged” when asked about Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-gay groups.

The HRC said that the drop is noticeable across the US – even in the South, a stronghold for the fast food chain.

“Americans by and large are not comfortable with Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBT donations, and the company’s proud embrace of these discriminatory practices is taking a deserved toll on its image,” said HRC Vice President of Communications Fred Sainz.

Meanwhile, a New Hampshire Chick-Fil-A franchise owner, Anthony Piccola, has shown his disapproval of his brand’s anti-gay views and has signed up to be a sponsor of the New Hampshire Pride Fest.

“In both my personal and professional life, I have had and continue to have positive relationships with family, friends, customers and employees in the LGBT community,” said Picolia in a statement on the New Hampshire Pride Fest’s website.

“It would make me sad if someone felt that they were not openly welcomed into my life or restaurant based on their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. Chick-fil-A at Pheasant Lane Mall has gay employees and serves gay customers with honor, dignity and respect,” he added.

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