Just two years ago, conservative Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy infuriated LGBT avtivists when he publicly voiced his support for traditional marriage. As his company gets ready to expand into the more liberal Northeast, however, Cathy is on a campaign to show the public that he has found a "wiser way."
While his position on the traditional definition of marriage has not changed, Cathy explained in a USA Today interview that his company's socially conservative agenda, which led them to donate millions to opponents of same-sex marriage in the past, has been tempered.
"All of us become more wise as time goes by," Cathy apologetically told USA Today. "We sincerely care about all people."
Chick-fil-A, which recently toppled KFC as the leader in the U.S. chicken fast-food industry with fewer stores located mostly in the South, is looking to quickly expand into the large urban markets of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. And with that comes a new reality for the 1,800-store chain.
"I'm going to leave it [discussion of gay marriage] to politicians and others to discuss social issues," said Cathy.
Conservative head of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins, however, derided business leaders like Cathy who temper their positions on same-sex marriage in the name of business.
"I think we're seeing those in the business community becoming cowards," Perkins said on Mike Huckabee's Fox News program on Sunday.
"Tolerance is a one-way street for [the same-sex marriage supporters who boycotted Chick-fil-A]. What they want to do is force the rest of America not to just tolerate but to celebrate what they're doing. They want to redefine America," he added.
Cathy drew the ire of same-sex marriage advocates in the summer of 2012 when he told The Biblical Recorder that the company "was supportive of the biblical definition of the family unit." In another interview he charged that America was "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."
Last month he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that all of that was a mistake.
"Every leader goes through different phases of maturity, growth and development and it helps by (recognizing) the mistakes that you make," said Cathy. "And you learn from those mistakes. If not, you're just a fool. I'm thankful that I lived through it and I learned a lot from it."
Cathy said he's now focusing on social issues that match more closely with his chicken business: health and nutrition.
On Tuesday, the company announced the addition of three new grilled chicken entrees to its menu: a grilled chicken sandwich, a grilled chicken club and grilled chicken nuggets as healthier options to consumers. It reportedly spent more than $50 million to develop the recipe and cooking technique.
"The world is rapidly, shockingly changing around us and I think every business, every industry is having to move with incredible speed and agility to adapt to the new realities of the world we are in today and certainly health and nutrition is a major issue," said Cathy.
"We see that the lack of awareness for movement and burning off calories has led to an incredibly obese nation and we're gonna pay dearly for that as it relates to diabetes and all kinds of problems that come as a result," he continued.
"I feel we have a moral obligation being in the restaurant business of providing choices and information so that parents and even children can make informed choices about how they eat," he noted.
Openly gay New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm dismissed the company regardless of Cathy's efforts to make amends.
"We don't need bigots coming to New York City," said Dromm in an interview with the Huffington Post. "They are not welcome here unless they can embrace all of New York's diverse community, including the LGBT community."
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, called Dromm's reaction "outrageous and intolerant" in a press release Monday.
"What Dromm has effectively said here is that anyone who believes in marriage as the union of a man and a woman is unwelcome in New York City," said Brown. "His remarks, coming amidst a climate of such unseemly attacks on pro-marriage people as we saw with the Mozilla controversy last week, simply reinforce a growing manifestation of hostility and intimidation in the public square toward folks with traditional values. Christians and others are now, it seems, going to be considered guilty of 'thought-crimes' and threatened with all manner of reprisals simply for holding their beliefs."