WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF) – The Bay Area’s newest Chick-fil-A restaurant opened its doors in Walnut Creek Thursday morning, ushering in hungry patrons while protesters outside continued to demonstrate against the company’s stance on same-sex marriage.

The company, known for its chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, came under fire after CEO Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage this summer, prompting ongoing protests at many of the roughly 1,600 locations nationwide by LGBT equal rights advocates.

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Cathy said in a July interview with the Baptist Press, “We are very much supportive of the family—the Biblical definition of the family unit … We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

Advocates from Marriage Equality, who planned to be at the Walnut Creek location at 2800 N Main St. Thursday, have also taken issue with the restaurant’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, which the protesters claim supports programs that discriminate against gay people.

Marriage Equality event organizer Billy Bradford said Thursday’s protest intends to show the public that Bay Area residents still care about discrimination.

“I know a lot of the public will just think we are crazy people,” Bradford said, “But if your family is discriminated against, not treated equally, you can’t let it go.”

The protesters are standing outside the store with signs and said they will stay until 8 p.m.

In response to the controversy, the company in September re-released a statement it had issued over the summer.

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“As we have stated, the Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

Despite the controversy, dozens of people pitched tents and set up cots at the Walnut Creek eatery’s parking lot early Wednesday morning to secure a spot as one of the first 100 customers at the opening, Chik-fil-A spokeswoman Katy Kash said.

At Thursday’s 6:30 a.m. opening, 100 patrons received 52 certificates each for a free combo meal—enough for a free chicken sandwich, side of fries and a soda every week for a year.

Kash said a stream of customers was coming through the doors of the new location this morning, with larger crowds expected during the lunch and dinner hours.

She said a group of protesters was outside peacefully demonstrating.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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