I’m So Glad I Don’t Run a Restaurant

A pizzeria in Indiana was forced to close after its owner told the press that, in effect, they they would serve customers in their restaurant regardless of their religion or sexual orientation, but that if a gay couple wanted them to cater their wedding, they would refuse.

The owners were painted as evil practitioners of discrimination, cousins of Jim Crow.  Yet, at first, their position seems reasonable.

I wrote in these pages, back in 2012, that gay couples should be able to use civil marriage to secure their legal rights with respect to each other.  I was concerned, however, that the effect would be to redefine marriage into something other than what it has been for eons.

To me, refusing to participate in a wedding is not the same as refusing service to a customer.  A wedding is a celebration of a new marriage, and if the participants in the celebration are not in the spirit of the event, even if they’re contractors, then it won’t be the best sendoff for the new couple.  And it isn’t fair to the couple to have some of the participants there by force, especially when one could find another caterer, photographer, etc. who would be in the spirit of the event.

But then again:

  • Doesn’t being a professional mean executing your work with skill and grace, even if you’re not in the spirit?
  • How is telling a potential client ‘you can find another,’ or even, ‘I don’t really do these events, but here’s Mr. X, who will be able to serve you better than I can,’ different when addressing a gay couple as opposed to, say, a black couple?

The Indiana legislature passed a law last week affirming one’s right to one’s religious beliefs:

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.

I’ve read that five times and still can’t figure out what it’s practically useful for.  It seems to say that the government cannot infringe on one’s exercise of religion, except when they feel they have to.  And if one is sued, and uses as one’s defense that the law under which they are being sued infringes on their religion, they’ve invited the government to enter the case, presumably on the other side.

If I run a restaurant, and decide that I don’t want to cater gay weddings, this new law isn’t really helpful.

Nevertheless, the law unleashed a firestorm of opposition, even though there is a very similar Federal law on the books, so that this week, the Indiana legislature passed an update, explicitly declaring that ‘providers’ (i.e. any person or establishment other than an explicitly religious one) may not discriminate on the basis of ‘race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service,’ and may not use last week’s law (which otherwise remains in effect) as a defense.

I guess the message is: shut up and cater.

6 thoughts on “I’m So Glad I Don’t Run a Restaurant”

  1. There was a GoFundMe fundraiser for that restaurant that raised $842,000. I think that I could buy a few pizza parlors for that amount of money.

    We are drawing finer and finer lines concerning what denying an accommodation means. Were I a baker asked to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, I’d make it, but I’d explain to them that I’d have to charge them an extra $20 (or whatever a bride and groom doll cake topper costs) if they weren’t available separately, or I’d knock off the cost of the cake topper from the cost of the cake, and let them get their own. That seems fair to me. Given the wide range of cake toppers available (I just went to etsy and saw things that I can’t unsee), it seems reasonable to price the cake topper as a separate item depending on what the customer wants.

    Perhaps I’ve been to more formal weddings, but I’ve never been served pizza (or even Italian food) at a wedding. I can imagine drunks getting into a food fight with spaghetti.

    Though people who are catering a wedding or taking photographs might not be “in the spirit” of the wedding, when you are catering the wedding, you are “the help”. Not offering catering services would seem to be a positive defense against denial of service because a couple is gay. I understand catering a function to involve both preparation and serving food, as well as cleaning up afterward.

  2. There are people who see gay marriage as sinful, and for that reason, profoundly wrong. And while there are some who are motivated by bigotry, the more Christian explanation is that you don’t want to help others commit sin. It’s a little bit more serious than a cake topper.

    If I had many more friends than I do in real life when I got married, and much less money, and there was a pizzeria whose food my fiancee and I really enjoyed, I might have asked them to cater the event. (And I probably would only serve beer, again, being constrained by a small budget, so I wouldn’t expect any rip-roaring drunks.) But you have a good point: pizzerias normally don’t cater weddings, and in fact the question was, in itself, a put-up job.

    I’m still a bit old-fashioned about this: if I were friends with a gay couple who were getting married, and they were happy together and committed to each other, I’d be happy for them, and wish them all the best, but I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable attending the wedding, particularly if they made a big production of it.

  3. My opinion is this, I have no issue with gay marriage personally but the restaurant should be allowed to do what they think because many consider it a religious issue. I look at it this way because we are becoming a nation that if someone is offended you have to cater. It reminds me to some extent if how I got banned from several dating sites because I won’t date dads and one of the reasons is religious. When I got banned they were infringing on my rights. Let’s twist it, say I own a restaurant and I was asked to cater a baby shower of an unwed mom on welfare or a wedding for a couple marrying each several times should I have to cater? When I was a model I turned down jobs like modeling furs because I oppose it, should I have taken this?

    I wouldn’t have a reception at a pizza parlor, it’s tacky and trashy. Weddings should be classy.

    1. NWP, you got banned from some dating sites? Which ones? ‘Inquiring minds want to know’! And, I would like to know too. LOL! :-). Actually, I think anyone who is in business has to serve the general public. The United States has forfeited it’s citizens right to discriminate because of it’s ugly history of slavery, and racism. If business people don’t want to serve everyone they should not be in business serving the general public. They could always form a private club, and just serve people in their little club and that would be okay. But, if you serve the general public you have to serve everyone in the general public who can pay. That’s what it means to serve the general public as a business. If They don’t like it they can always move to another country.

      1. For what it’s worth, eHarmony wouldn’t even accept my application because my questionnaire revealed that I am not Christian enough (or whatever it is that eHarmony seekers seek) several years ago.

        Okay, I’ll be bitter and alone :).

  4. The law forbids discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics (race, color, religion, gender, age, etc.). Some states may have other conditions, like sexual orientation, although this would obviously not apply for a dating service explicitly supporting heterosexual relationships. Anything after that is fair game. So if a dating service has a written test for admission, as long as it doesn’t discriminate against any of the forbidden categories, they’re within their rights to not accept it if you fail. And as there are probably not that many eligible bachelors over, say, 35 who aren’t dads (and they may have their own issues!), it’s reasonable for a dating service to turn you down if you refuse to date such men: they simply can’t help you with that constraint, whether it comes from your religion or not.

    One of the things that I’ve learned the hard way is that when you’re getting married, if it’s right in your soul, you want the whole world to know about it, and you want everyone you know to be part of it. If you want to get married in secret, check your premises, as something is seriously wrong. So if I had lots of friends, and very little money (and my fiancee were on board with the concept!), yes, I would consider a pizzeria to cater my wedding. The venue wouldn’t be the pizzeria itself, as it probably wouldn’t be big enough. And I wouldn’t be concerned about it being tacky, because I’d be forthright about the circumstances. Tacky would be pretending that the pizza wedding is an opulent affair, when it clearly isn’t.

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