The owner of an Indiana small-town pizzeria that was thrust into the national spotlight after his daughter said they would refuse to cater a same-sex wedding celebration says his family has no problem with gay couples, but he maintained that he would not cater a same-sex wedding.
He fears he may now lose his business over what he considers a simple expression of his beliefs.
Kevin O’Connor, who owns Memories Pizzeria in Walkerton, Ind., with his two children, spoke with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, shortly after his daughter’s comments to a local television reporter went viral and made his restaurant the latest battleground in the national dispute over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Critics have denounced the legislation, calling it an invitation for business owners in the conservative state to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Although he supports the legislation, O’Connor told The Times he did not make a public decree that he would not serve same-sex couples, nor did anyone ask him that question.
But in the television interview, which led thousands to attack his business on Facebook and on Yelp, his daughter Crystal said she would flat-out refuse service to a gay couple who asked to have their wedding catered.
“We service anyone. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if they’re covered with tattoos, I don’t care if they got rings in their ears. I don’t care if they’re gay. The only thing I said was I cannot condone gay marriage,” O’Connor, 61, told The Times. He said he believes his decision not to cater same-sex weddings is simply an expression of his religious beliefs.
“If they want to come in the store, that’s their privilege, they can do that. But I can’t condone gay marriage, that’s against my belief,” he added.
O’Connor, who said he was born and raised in Indiana and has owned the business for nine years, said he was surprised by the outrage his daughter’s comments drew.
“I’m just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don’t have anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t change my attitude or stance, but it’s hurtful that I can’t publicly speak out about what I believe in saying.”
The problem is catering a wedding becomes a highly personal affair, they become part of it, and they should not, under any circumstances be required to do it. period.
Crystal O’Connor told The Blaze, a website and TV network founded by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, that the backlash had led the family to close the pizzeria at least for now. “We’re in hiding, basically,” she said.
The restaurant is not without its supporters, however. An online fundraising campaign on its behalf has raised more than $36,000 in less than six hours.
Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last week, says that government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and that individuals who feel their religious beliefs have been or could be “substantially burdened” are protected from civil lawsuits.
Twenty other states have passed similar laws. Arkansas’ Legislature passed such a bill Tuesday, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson hasn’t signed it, and on Wednesday he called for changes before he would.
Pence, who has repeatedly said critics are misinterpreting the law, has also asked the Indiana Legislature to modify it to ensure that it doesn’t allow for blanket discrimination by businesses.
Kevin O’Connor said Wednesday that he thought miscommunication had driven a lot of the rancor about the bill and that he feared he and his family would now be branded as bigots. Asked whether he had any issue with gays or lesbians, he said, “I do not.”
“That was said, but that’s not what was heard,” he said.