by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.
October 9, 2015
It is hard to miss recent media portrayals of anyone who voices or acts on their religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage in how they run their business as “bigoted” and seeking a “license to discriminate.” This consistent narrative has judged their motives without reason, roundly rejecting small business owners’ (often wedding vendors) claims that they are simply living out their faith with love, but can’t be a part of a ceremony that violates their consciences.
When the owners of Memories Pizza — a small town pizzeria in Indiana — were posed a hypothetical question about whether they would cater a same-sex wedding last year, the “intolerance” of their simple response that they would not resulted in a threat to burn down their shop. They didn’t react in turn, but continued to explain that they would happily serve customers who identify as homosexual; they just didn’t want to be a part of the wedding. Of course none of this mattered to those not seeking the facts.
Now it appears that a man ordered two pizzas from Memories Pizza, without stating his reasons (as is quite normal when ordering pizza), and brought them back to serve at his same-sex wedding. He’s recorded the event, and claimed Memories “catered” his gay wedding — without knowing it. In response, Memories owner Kevin O’Connor hasn’t threatened to burn anything down. He hasn’t called anyone a bigot. He’s actually not really too interested in what happened.
So what’s the point?
Memories Pizza served a man regardless of his sexual orientation. The owners did not deny him service. They didn’t “turn him away.” And the fact that their pizzas were served at a gay wedding isn’t too bothersome to them. They didn’t quiz the man when he came in, asking him what he would use the pizza for. Those truly seeking to understand the conflicts in the “wedding vendor cases” should study what happened here, for they will see that no one involved is interested in simply turning away customers based on their sexual orientation.
What else can we learn?
It’s important to note that Kevin O’Connor didn’t run around claiming “my conscience was violated here!” Conscience is not violated merely by the occurrence of events; there must be knowledge of what one is getting oneself into. Thus, conscience is violated when someone is forced to knowingly participate in something they believe is wrong. Kevin wasn’t forced to participate in anything here; thus he wasn’t upset. He had no problem with serving a person in his shop, whether or not that person identifies as homosexual.
This is an important teaching moment on the role of conscience in the “wedding vendor cases” and beyond. The small business owners involved are not asking to simply “turn people away” or for a “blank check” to do whatever they want; they are advancing sincere conscience claims in certain circumstances. Memories Pizza’s unproblematic “catering” of this same-sex wedding shows that. Those who sincerely care to understand more about such religious freedom claims can learn from this development.