- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The decision whether to eat at Chick-fil-A has become a hot-button issue since the fast food company’s president opened up about his support for traditional marriage, but one local politician says she’s not making a political statement by welcoming the company with open arms.

Prince George’s County Council member Karen R. Toles, a Democrat, said she’s attending the opening of a Chick-fil-A in District Heights on Thursday to celebrate the economic development in her community.

“When you have someone who hires over 100 people from your county alone, that is something to celebrate,” Ms. Toles said.

Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy sparked a national backlash against the company — including boycotts and kiss-ins by gay couples — after an interview last month in which he affirmed the family-owned private company supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.” Afterward, several major metropolitan mayors, including D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, flocked to decry the fast food chain’s presence in their cities.

Ms. Toles declined to address the controversy or how it factored into her plan to attend the fast-food restaurant’s opening.

“I’m solely looking at the jobs,” she said. “This is a huge economic boost.”

According to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s most recent data, the county’s unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in June. Ms. Toles said the restaurant owner told her approximately 90 percent of the people hired to work at the District Heights restaurant live in Prince George’s County.

Judging by the response thus far by constituents, she said she thinks residents are supportive of the new restaurant.

“They have been asking since they saw the ‘Coming Soon’ sign, ‘When is this opening?’” she said, adding that she even fielded questions from hungry passers-by while on a tour of the restaurant earlier this week.

Ms. Toles’ appearance at the now-controversial restaurant’s opening comes as Maryland voters prepare to weigh in on same-sex marriage. A law allowing same-sex marriage passed in the state legislature this year but will be challenged in November after enough signatures were gathered to force a referendum on the law.

Recent polling data has shown that those in favor of same-sex marriage are edging out those against it in the state, with a marked change in opinion from black voters accounting for an uptick of support in at least one poll.

In the majority black county, residents from the area where the District Heights restaurant is located registered their disapproval of same-sex marriage legislation last year.

Delegate Tiffany T. Alston, one of three Democrats who represents the legislative district where the District Heights Chick-fil-A is located, co-sponsored a same-sex marriage bill that did not pass the General Assembly in 2011. Ms. Alston withdrew her support and co-sponsorship after she heard negative feedback from constituents. In the spring, Ms. Alston voted in favor of the same-sex bill, stipulating that she also supported a referendum on the issue.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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