By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has waded into the national controversy surrounding fast food chain Chick-fil-A, whose president has publicly opposed same-sex marriage, urging the chicken sandwich sellers to stay out of Boston.
Even as the chain took heat from Menino, gay rights activists and even the Muppets, conservative politicians, including former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, pushed back.
A letter from Mayor Menino derided Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy for recent "prejudiced statements" against same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004.
Posted on a Boston community page on the social media site Facebook on Wednesday, the letter has gone viral. It has been "liked" by more than 131,000 users and shared more than 46,000 times.
"In recent days you said Chick-fil-A opposes same-sex marriage, and said the generation that supports it has an 'arrogant attitude,'" Menino wrote in the letter, dated July 20 and addressed to Cathy at Chick-fil-A's Atlanta headquarters.
"Now - incredibly - your company says you are backing out of the same-sex marriage debate. I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston."
The fast-food company has reportedly been shopping for sites in downtown Boston, including spots along the city's well-known Freedom Trail, a pathway that winds past many of the city's Revolutionary War landmarks, and even within sight of Menino's City Hall office.
Menino, noting that some of the first same-sex couples to wed in the country came to the Boston City Hall to get married, said: "It would be an insult to them and to our city's long history of expanding freedom, to have a Chick-fil-A across the street from that spot."
Chick-fil-A did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Menino's letter or its plans for Boston.
Last week, the chain said its culture is "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect - regardless of their belief, creed, race, sexual orientation or gender."
The Chick-fil-A controversy hit the headlines after Cathy's comments to the Baptist Press citing "prideful" supporters of same-sex marriage and defending the company's support of "the biblical definition of the family unit."
Same-sex couples around the country plan a kiss-in at Chick-fil-A restaurants on August 3.
The Jim Henson Company, whose Muppet characters like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are hugely popular, announced it will no longer work with the chain.
It said it will donate a payment received from a promotion with Chick-fil-A - which featured "Jim Henson Creature Shop Puppets" in kids' meals - to the gay rights group GLAAD.
Santorum, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage, struck back by suggesting a counter-protest.
"Simply have a meal at Chick-fil-A on August 1 for ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day' and our support for traditional values will be heard loud and clear," Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, wrote in an email to supporters.
Privately held Chick-fil-A was founded in 1946 by S. Truett Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist who is still the company's chairman. The company is known for its mix of religion and business as well as its fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
The company's website says that Dan Cathy, the founder's son, is driven by a "personal passion" to see the fulfillment of Chick-fil-A's corporate purpose: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us."
All of Chick-fil-A's roughly 1,600 locations - including two outlets in suburban Boston shopping malls - are closed on Sundays, Christmas and Thanksgiving.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)