Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy

Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy (Chick-fil-A, courtesy)

Welcome to America's latest cultural and political divide — involving fast food chicken chain Chick-fil-A.

And, not surprisingly, some of South Florida's most prominent political figures are on opposite sides of the controversy, which is now hotter than the restaurant's deep fryers.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has laid down the law for her three kids — including two teens: no more Chick-fil-A.

Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West can't get enough of the chicken chain. His response to calls for a boycott: "I love some Chick-fil-A."

The chicken fight erupted over one of the country's most contentious social issues, gay rights.

Dan Cathy, son of the company founder and the current president, told the Baptist Press in a mid-July interview that "we are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit." Also, researchers for the gay rights group Equality Matters reported the company foundation and the Cathy family have given millions of dollars to anti-gay causes, especially those that work against gay marriage.

Gay and lesbian activists called for protests, a boycott and a "Same-Sex Kiss Day" at some Chick-fil-A outlets on Friday.

That, in turn, provoked a response from Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, Fox News talker, former Arkansas governor and unsuccessful 2008 Republican presidential candidate, who proclaimed Wednesday as "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."

In South Florida, the Rev. Mark Boykin of the Church of All Nations in Boca Raton is calling on members of his 2,000-member congregation and anyone else who's interested to join him for lunch Wednesday at the Chick-fil-A at the Town Center Mall.

"The gay community thinks they can bully businesses into embracing and celebrating their lifestyles," Boykin said. "[Cathy] simply said 'I believe in traditional family values.' So how did that become so offensive to people?"

Eric Harazi, a gay man who works in theater in West Palm Beach, said it's important to protest on behalf of what he sees as the next big civil rights issue.

"To me, family values is a family that loves each other. It's a family that isn't abusive. It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight or transgender, as long as there is love," he said.Harazi was one of the quickest to marshal opposition to Cathy's statement. Taking to Facebook, he organized a protest last Saturday at a Chick-fil-A in West Palm Beach.

Politicians and protest leaders aren't the only ones with divergent perspectives on what attitude to have toward the restaurant's signature chicken sandwich and other fare. Customers at a Pompano Beach Chick-fil-A on Wednesday — at least those who were aware of the controversy — said they support the company. Patrons at Java Boys, a Wilton Manors coffee shop with a large gay clientele, saw it differently.

At the Chick-fil-A, Debbie Wetzler said it was wrong for big-city mayors — including those in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco — to make it clear Chick-fil-A isn't welcome in their communities. The Lighthouse Point resident praised Cathy as "a man who will stand up for his principles."

Michael Ward of Pompano Beach said he's irritated at gay activists. "The gay and lesbian community made it as if he [Cathy] is opposed to them. It's not [that] he's opposed to them, he's for traditional marriage."

Still, Ward won't be increasing his Chick-fil-A consumption — because he already eats breakfast there every day.

At Java Boys, Jay Peller of Oakland Park, who works in higher education, said he too has enjoyed dining at Chick-fil-A. But "I won't ever do that again," he said. "We should boycott them. I won't be giving them a dime of my business. Money is power and we should walk with our feet."

It's also no more Chick-fil-A for Wellington Nascimento, a student visiting South Florida from Chicago. "Why am I going to a place that I wouldn't feel comfortable?" he said.

West, of Palm Beach Gardens, who said he "grew up on Chick-fil-A" in Georgia, called boycotting the chain wrongheaded.

"To say that the head of a private sector organization cannot speak about his own personal beliefs, that we're going to punish you in the free market place because of that, it's a slippery slope folks, a real slippery slope," West said in a town hall meeting video posted on the political website bizpacreview.com. "What you guys are basically saying is that if you don't agree with us, you don't have free speech. That ain't right."

Boykin also said Chick-fil-A shouldn't be punished. "It violates the very principles this country stands for when a man cannot even verbalize his feelings on a controversial matter or any matter," he said.

Boycotts aren't unique to gay rights advocates. The National Organization for Marriage, which works to fight the spread of same-sex marriage, is promoting a boycott of General Mills because the cereal maker's CEO said his company was against a gay-marriage ban.

Ward, the daily Chick-fil-A eater, says those who want to boycott are within their rights. "I don't buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream. They're big-time liberals," he said.

Wasserman Schultz said her family has eaten at the Chick-fil-A near their Weston home but won't any more because she doesn't patronize establishments if she learns they "invest profits in causes that I disagree with that come down to my fundamental principles."

Michael Rajner of Wilton Manors, an activist on gay issues, said he isn't sure which of Broward's 10 or Palm Beach County's nine restaurants will be the scene of the same-sex kiss protests on Friday. Rajner said he'll happily take part. "I hope I find somebody good to kiss," he said.

Seth Poor, owner of the Pompano Beach Chick-fil-A, said he won't be fazed if two men or two women kiss at his restaurant. "I'm sure it's happened before," he said. "It's no big deal. It is South Florida."

What's your take on Chick-fil-A? Take our poll at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics

aman@tribune.com or 954-0356-4550