The controversy-prone Chick-fil-A chain announced that it's building 88 new restaurants nationwide this year, including one being hatched this May in Thousand Oaks.

This week it also was announced that, within five years, Chick-fil-A restaurants will stop serving chickens raised with antibiotics. As reported by CNN, the move reflects widespread concern about drugs given to cattle, pigs and chickens. The Food and Drug Administration says this practice contributes to a dangerous increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and humans.

With this environmentally enlightened move, can Chick-fil-A undo the negative publicity and bad after-taste the company cooked up in 2012, when it was revealed that the owners of the Atlanta-based chain have given millions of dollars to groups fighting same-sex marriage?
Company president Dan Cathy ruffled a lot of feathers when he told a Christian news organization that Chick-fil-A supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.” He also said in a radio interview, “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.'”

In July 2012 The New York Times offered an overview of the ensuing uproar, which included actions and reactions from Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, the mayor of Boston, a Chicago alderman and the Muppets.

Last June, when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, Cathy tweeted that it was “a sad day for our nation.” (Faster than you can say, “Oops, he did it again,” the tweet was deleted, but it lived on in screenshots.)

There have been numerous protests and boycotts of the chain, including many in Los Angeles. Since then, there was a news story about Cathy's new friendship with a gay activist. We wondered if this bromance might signal a change in company policy. Asked if there was any update on the issue of same-sex marriage, a Chick-fil-A spokesperson sent us this statement:

“Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company dedicated to serving the communities in which we operate. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that we are stronger because of such principles as closing on Sundays, going the extra mile in service, treating others as we want to be treated, and devoting a percentage of profits back to our communities. Those same principles have been applied throughout the history of Chick-fil-A and still apply today.

“The Chick-fil-A culture and 68-year service tradition in our locally owned and operated restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We are a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality; our intent is not to engage in political or social debates.”

We weren't sure how to interpret this statement, so we reached out to Media Matters, the media watchdog organization that broke news in 2012 and 2013 about Chick-fil-A's anti-gay donations.

Carlos Maza, lead researcher on LGBT issues for Media Matters, wrote us: “Chick-fil-A has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations through its charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation. Those donations, along with a number of anti-gay comments made by company president Dan Cathy, seriously undermine Chick-fil-A's claim that it doesn't engage in political debates.”

We also asked for perspective from Bishop Guy Erwin of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Erwin, who is openly gay, sent us his thoughts about Chick-fil-A's statement:

“No reasonable business would want to limit its customer base by offending part of it; Chick-fil-A's assertion that it treats people equally and fairly is welcome and right. But the proof is always in the actions, not the words. And just as it remains the right of the owners of the company to use the wealth they derive from it in furthering their values, it remains the same right of consumers to know whom their business is enriching, and appropriate for them to choose not to patronize businesses whose owners take public stances and use their wealth in ways that offend consumers' values.

“This is not as much a matter of religious conviction as of personal choice in a free society. As to Chick-fil-A's 'biblically based' values, I applaud their effort to be decent to others. I do not look, however, to a sandwich shop for my theology.”

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