As a gay man, I really feel for the O’Connor family in Walkerton, Indiana. They walked right into a perfect storm.
The storm wasn’t of their own making. They simply said their restaurant wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding because of their religious beliefs. That their family business is the Memories Pizza Parlor of course led to much derision in some circles. What self-respecting homosexual is going to cater a wedding with large pepperoni pizzas and limp salad? Even if money is tight, like it was for my own graduate-school wedding, there are better options.
There’s no question that the O’Connor’s faith is integral to their business. According to media accounts, Christian messages have long decorated the walls of their establishment. This is not only their right, it is something every American should support and cherish. In that way, it is their business.
I hope we would all base our purchasing decisions on the quality and price of the pizza, not the religious beliefs of the owners. But, of course, some of us will decide we don’t like the religious atmosphere and not eat there.
So Memories Pizza is a family business strongly based in the O’Connor’s religious faith. And we all get to choose whether we buy pizza from them or not. God bless America!
But, in their clear support for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what the O’Connor family said they would and wouldn’t do is telling. They are clear that they won’t and don’t discriminate against gay customers. They just won’t cater a wedding. “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Crystal O’Connor said.
Therein lies the interesting confusion coming out of those supporting the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts across the country.
Gay weddings, as such, have never been illegal. I had one 20 years ago. Friends and family came from across the country. Athletes from the college team I coach were there. To save money, the reception was potluck, and I don’t remember anyone bringing pizza. In my Quaker faith, it was even possible to be married in a religious ceremony that was seen as absolutely identical spiritually to those performed for the opposite-sex couples of my community.
What I didn’t have—and still can’t have in Michigan—is a civilly legal marriage.
So if the O’Connors—or others—would sell pizza to a gay couple on a regular basis, just not for a wedding, they’re really only claiming a symbolic opposition to gay marriage.
A wedding isn’t a marriage, and most of us wouldn’t want pizza as an integral part of our weddings anyway. But as an integral part of our marriages? You bet.
That day when both parties to the marriage are tired and have to get children to the next event and neither wants to cook? Order pizza!
That night when you both just want to snuggle down in front of RuPaul’s Drag Race or Orange Is the New Black and laugh and be, well, gay together? Order pizza!
The day you get back from a long day at the hospital wondering if your partner will survive the next week and you haven’t eaten? Order pizza!
Pizza, for better or worse, keeps many American families functional on a weekly basis. It allows the time for us to sit around a table, or in front of a television, or on the back deck, and to just enjoy being a family. It gives us time to feel the love we have for each other. Perhaps it even allows us to focus on and talk about difficult issues that could lead to the end of the marriage.
So selling us that pizza absolutely supports our marriages.
If it’s our same-sex marriages you object to, O’Connor family, you really should be arguing that you should never have to sell us pizza.
But if all you’re worried about is the symbolism of being a part of our weddings? You’re showing that perhaps these religious beliefs are perhaps not as “deeply held” as you profess.
Or that you don’t understand what marriage is and why we’re fighting so hard to get it.
My people have come down on you hard for that, so I feel sorry for you. I’m sure what is happening to you online and elsewhere feels like bullying. To a large extent it is—particularly the invidious name-calling and the online hijacking of your business name. And I say to those who are picking on the O’Connors, stop it. Now. Let’s be bigger than that.
But understand that many of us just don’t buy that you have a deeply felt religious objection to gay marriage. In many of our eyes, you’re hiding behind the Bible to cloak an anti-gay bigotry that is as much or more cultural than it is theological.
I, for one, will take a slightly different tack. I think you’re caught in a period of rapid social change that you never anticipated. It must be confusing, and challenging, to see the swiftness with which much of America has turned against Indiana, and your family, as the state’s proxy. This isn’t the world you grew up in.
It must be somewhat alarming to see all these people from the big city and the coasts coming after you. Many of us have, I fully admit, looked down our noses at people like you, folks from small towns and in conservative churches. And now we are calling you out as bigoted and backward, and dragging your good name through the mud.
Even the more than $800,000 that has come your way in online donations in the past few days can’t erase the sting of being condescended to and judged as immoral by people you haven’t even met. Trust me, this is a feeling that gay people know only too well.
After all, you are just trying to make a living, have a loving family, and live faithful lives. Just as me and mine are.
But if you and others can’t support our marriages and our families, then you should really hold fast to those convictions, and refuse to sell us pizza at any time. At least that would be consistent. I don’t want my civil rights and my human dignity violated for something that’s only a symbolic protest. My life means much more to me than that.
So, O’Connor family, I’ll help you out. I won’t be buying your pizza if you ever choose to open up your restaurant again in the future.
Despite best intentions, the marriage sanctified 20 years ago fell apart. I’ve just met a great guy, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be spending more time together. Perhaps it will be nothing; perhaps I’ll spend my life with him. I don’t know. It’s new and exciting.
In my faith, love, in all its forms, is a divine gift. The possibility of these feelings between two people, no matter what their gender, is considered God-given. You, of course, don’t have to agree.
But if God is sending me a great love and a mate to make my life fuller and more loving, and we do get married, trust me, we’ll have our wedding memories without Memories Pizza.
But on the days our marriage needs it, we’ll be calling for a large sausage and mushroom pie with pepperoni on half.
Just not yours.