A Californian owner-operator of a branch of chicken restaurant Chick-fil-A, has given out dozens of free coupons for chicken at a pro-marriage equality rally.

Corey Braun, of the Chick-fil-A in Rancho Cucamonga gave out the tickets to equal marriage supporters at a local demonstration, and said he hoped it would change people’s perception of the company, which was in the spotlight when its COO spoke out against equal marriage last year.

Back in July, the COO of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, publicly confirmed that the company was opposed to equal marriage.

Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged”, when asked about its perceived opposition to equal marriage.

There was then a drawn-out mix of messages coming out of the company over several months, some seeming to suggest that executives wanted to distance Chick-fil-A from the controversy, others confirming that it has maintained its anti-gay policy. The Chick-fil-A statement released said it intended “to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

“There were a lot of things said over the past year,” Braun said. “I wanted to show that Chick-fil-A doesn’t discriminate against anybody. We serve everyone. We’re happy to serve the community and this was an opportunity to have this group come in and show them our hospitality regardless of their beliefs, sexual orientation, or whatever. ”

He went on to say that Cathy’s statements did not reflect on the company’s policy with regards to service He said: “Chick-fil-A has never been about hate.

“I think things were taken out of context. The COO Dan Cathy was asked about his opinion on marriage and he just supports a biblical view of marriage.”

Eden Anderson, a board member with local LGBT rights group Equality Inland Empire, said that Braun’s appearance at the demonstration was “surreal”, and unexpected.

“The crowd was very accepting of course,” he said. “We got quiet and we were listening, and with some skepticism. But really, what I experienced with the community, is when people are open and apologetic and accepting, it’s touching to us. It feels like acceptance and we just want to be accepted and engaged in society, so when it’s confirmed, I think the overall reaction was, yes, certainly that Chick-fil-A in Rancho Cucamonga is welcoming to us. ”

Last year, at Braun’s branch of the chicken restaurant, as well as many other branches of the restaurant, hundreds of people turned up for ‘Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day’.

The day was organised in support of the chain after LGBT groups called for boycotts following Cathy’s statements.

Anderson commented on the turnout last year, and “how much it hurt.”

“A lot of them aren’t just against marriage equality,” he said. “They believe gay people are a sin against nature and God and it felt like a display of disregard for our humanity. ”

Last week, a university in the US city of Atlanta announced that it would remove Chick-fil-A from its campus following a lack of support from students.