"It could be that they've determined that they already have this identity, so let's just own it," said Lake Lambert, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer University and author of "Spirituality Inc. — Religion in the American Workplace." "But I think it could present challenges to them as they expand outside of the South."
"[Cathy is] taking a bold stand," Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, told the Associated Press. "Chick-fil-A is a bible-based, Christian-based business who treats their employees well. They have been attacked in the past about their stand. But they refuse to budge on this matter, and I commend them for what they are doing."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which supports same-sex marriage, told the AP Thursday that Chick-fil-A "has finally come clean."
"While they may have been in neutral, kicking this fight into overdrive now allows fair-minded consumers to make up their own minds whether they want to support an openly discriminatory company," Griffin said in a statement. "As the country moves toward inclusion, Chick-fil-A has staked out a decidedly stuck-in-the-past mentality."
Chick-fil-A spokesman Don Perry emailed a prepared statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday.
"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of belief, creed and sexual orientation," the statement said. "We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
In his own words, Perry said, "There is no change of course in our previously stated Chick-fil-A position."
One LGBT activist told the AJC she was surprised Cathy was "picking a fight" at a time when the furor over the restaurant's conservative connections was dying down.
"We've moved on," said Heather Cronk, managing director of Get Equal, a national LGBT rights organization that has initiated previous boycotts of the chain. But Cronk added that while many in the gay community already choose not to eat at Chick-fil-A, the latest statements may influence "some of our straight allies who may decide to go somewhere else."
Cathy acknowledged to the Baptist Press that his stand may cost the company some customers.
"We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles," he said.