Gay rights activist Will Coutret, of Albuquerque, N.M., dressed in...

Gay rights activist Will Coutret, of Albuquerque, N.M., dressed in a cow outfit, advertises free chicken sandwiches donated by Roma Bakery and Deli as a way of protesting Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day at the restaurant in Albuquerque. (Aug. 1, 2012) Credit: AP

Chick-fil-A appears to have set a company record in sales on Wednesday, a day on which Americans were encouraged to show their support for the fast-food restaurant whose leadership has drawn both criticism and praise in recent weeks for its opposition to same-sex marriage.

The privately held company declined to give specific sales figures but released a statement to the Los Angeles Times confirming that frenzied sales of chicken sandwiches and cross-cut waffle fries had made for a record-setting day.

“We are very grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers on August 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country,” said Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, in the statement. “While we don’t release exact sales numbers, we can confirm reports that it was a record-setting day.”

The company, which started in 1946 and now has more than 1,615 locations nationwide, recorded annual sales of more than $4.1 billion last year.

Robinson said the Atlanta-based company was “grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers” who showed up at outlets in droves coast-to-coast. Customers often waited in long lines, many weathering the blistering summer sun, just to get in the front door.

Such images — as well as those of crowded Chick-fil-A counters and long lines of cars snaking through the drive-thru lanes — created a social media frenzy on Wednesday as they were shared and reshared on a variety of platforms, including Twitter.

The images suggested that sales were indeed going gangbusters, and confirmation of those suspicions arrived when Orange County Pastor Rick Warren tweeted a snippet of a conversation he’d had with Dan Cathy, president of the popular fast-food chain:

“@DanCathy just called me. #ChickFilA has already set a world record today, with 7 more hrs to go in the West. #OutOfChicken”

The company, which proudly abides by Bible-based principles and closes its doors to sales on Sundays, stressed in its statement that Chick-fil-A did not promote Wednesday’s turnout.

It also stressed that its employees abide by a service tradition to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

Robinson’s statement alluded to rumors that another protest (including “kiss-ins”) will be staged at Chick-fil-A’s on Friday by same-sex marriage supporters, which in turn has led to rumors of counter-counter-protests ... you get the idea.

The company says Friday will just be another day, and another opportunity: “We understand from news reports that Friday may present yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food.”

The current uproar over Chick-fil-A dates to mid-July, when Cathy was quoted about his dedication to traditional family values. His comments reignited long-standing tensions between the company and the LGBT community, which called for a boycott.

In response, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared Aug. 1 to be Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

The story blew up from there and has dominated headlines in recent days, underscoring the country’s cultural divide on the issue of gay rights as well as the rights of a businessman to express his personal point of view.

Critics of media coverage of the uproar, for example, note that the company is not facing allegations that it discriminates against gay customers or employees.

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