For some reason, I was thinking again of the O’Connor family in Walkerton, Indiana. In case you have forgotten, they are the family who owns Memories Pizza and have said that their restaurant will not cater a same-sex wedding because of their religious beliefs.
To my mind, there is no question that the O’Connor’s faith is an integral part of their business. According to several media accounts, Christian messages have long decorated the walls of their business establishment. This, of course, is not only their right; it is something that every American should support and cherish. It is their business.
So Memories Pizza is a family business strongly based on the O’Connor’s religious faith. And if we do not like the religious atmosphere in the place, we are free to choose whether we buy pizza from them or not. Is this a great country, or what?
But, in their obvious support for the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, what the O’Connor family said they would and would not do is very telling. They are very clear that they will not and do not discriminate against gay customers. They just will not cater a same-sex wedding. “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” said Crystal O’Connor, co-owner with her father, Kevin, of the pizza establishment.
And therein, my friends, lies the interesting confusion coming from those supporting the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts across the country.
Gay weddings, as such, have never been illegal. What has not been legal in many states is a civilly legal marriage. Perhaps I am splitting hairs when I say that while currently thirty-six states and the District of Columbia legally recognize same-sex marriage, I refuse to say that the remaining states do not allow gay weddings; instead, I choose to say that the laws in those states prevent same-sex couples from receiving a marriage certificate and all the legal protections that go along with having a legally recognized marriage.
And here is why I am so damn exacting about the language that I use. When black slaves were celebrating their weddings in their quarters on the plantations in the Deep South, jumping their brooms and declaring their love and lifetime commitment to each other in front of their family, friends, and God, would any of us have called their relationships anything less than a marriage, even though they could not obtain a marriage certificate from the state? I think not.
I am talking here about marriages being legally recognized by the state, not about two persons having the right to devote their lives to the person with whom they fall in love. That right, I submit, is not within the state’s jurisdiction to grant.
Now, with every couple that I have ever counseled, I always advise them that a wedding is not a marriage. A great deal of time and money may be spent on a wedding, but it is not the main event. The wedding lasts less than an hour; the marriage hopefully lasts a lifetime. The wedding is simply a public declaration of a relationship that already exists. From my pastoral perspective, a couple is already married before they have a wedding. If that marriage relationship is not based on mutual love and respect for each other, I am no magician and I can pronounce no magical words in the wedding ceremony that will make that happen. My role as a priest at a wedding is to officiate (to preside, to oversee) and, in the name of the church, to give a blessing. The real “ministers” in the wedding are the couple themselves, not me.
So if the O’Connor’s – or others like them – would sell pizza to a gay couple on a regular basis, just not for their wedding, I believe what they are really claiming is a symbolic opposition to gay marriage.
That being said, I suspect that most people would not want pizza and a brewsky as an integral part of their wedding anyway. I know how snobbish I must sound, but be honest. Would you opt for a pizza at your wedding?
But pizza as an integral part of a marriage? “You betchum, Red Ryder!” That is another matter entirely. After all, marriage and pizza do go together.
Think about it.
On that day when both participants in the marriage are tired and have to drive the children to the next sports event, or to the ballet lesson, or to what have you, and neither wants to cook – what do they do? Call Papa John’s and order a pizza!
Or perhaps on that night when both partners just want to hunker down and cuddle up in front of the television and watch Call the Midwife and cry or The Big Bang Theory and laugh and, well, just chill out together – what seems to be the natural thing to do? Why, call Domino’s Pizza and order a pizza, of course!
Or how about the time when one spouse returns home from a long day at the hospital wondering if the other spouse will survive the next week and a meal has not been eaten all day – what appears to be the simple solution to the events of the day? Well, call Pizza Hut and order a pizza! That seems like the thing to do in that crucial moment.
Am I right? You know I am.
Pizza, for better or worse, keeps many families functional on a weekly basis. Pizza even has nutritional value and eating that tasty creation allows us the time to sit around a table, or in front of a television screen, or on the patio deck and just enjoy being a family. Savoring that matchless baked mixture of cheese, tomatoes, and whatever other ingredients we have chosen, gives us time to feel the love we have for each other. Perhaps eating pizza even allows us to focus on and talk about difficult issues that could lead to the strengthening of the marriage.
I am not trying to make of pizza something that it is not, but I do believe I can say without equivocation or fear of contradiction that pizza absolutely supports and sustains a marriage!
If it is same-sex marriages that the O’Connor family is objecting to, then they really should be arguing that they should never have to sell same-sex couples pizza at all.
Or perhaps they do not really understand what marriage is.
And perhaps, just perhaps, those religious beliefs are not as “deeply held” as the O’Connor’s profess them to be. I, for one, just do not buy that they have a deeply held religious objection to gay marriage. “Deeply held,” based on what? In many cases, people such as the O’Connor’s hide behind the Bible to cloak an anti-gay bigotry that is as much or more cultural than it is theological.
I say that because I suspect that the O’Connor’s and others like them are caught up in a period of rapid social change that they never anticipated. It must be both confusing and challenging for them to see the swiftness with which much of America has turned toward acceptance of same-sex marriage. This is certainly not the world in which they were reared, and that world is suddenly insecure and very scary. After all, the O’Connor’s of this world are just trying to make a living, have loving families, and live faithful lives. Just as same-sex couples are trying to do. Imagine that!
So, O’Connor family, for what it is worth, here is what I think. If you and others like you cannot support same-sex marriages and their families, then you should really hold fast to your convictions and refuse to sell pizza to same-sex couples at any time. At least that would be consistent. But to have civil rights and human dignity violated for something that is only a symbolic protest is wrong. Human worth and mutual respect mean much more than that.
And – if I were living in Walkerton, Indiana – the next time my marriage is in need of a pizza, I would order a large pizza, loaded with a mouthwatering combination of pepperoni, ham, spicy Italian sausage, fresh-sliced onions, green peppers, gourmet baby portabella mushrooms, and ripe black olives. It just will not be Memories Pizza that I will call for that pizza.