Support growing for bill to protect LGBT Missourians, sponsor says
Last Tuesday, St. Louis-area bride-to-be Mindy Rackley shared some upsetting news with her Facebook friends: The restaurant booked for the joyous occasion of her upcoming wedding rehearsal dinner had abruptly done an about-face and refused the couple’s business.
The wife of the owner of Madison’s Café in O’Fallon, Missouri, phoned Rackley to ask some questions about the party, including the name of the groom. When Rackley responded that she’ll be marrying a woman, the deal was immediately off.
The owner’s wife “told me that out of ‘love’ for me she has to decline our business because they believe I am in an unhealthy relationship,” Rackley wrote in her post.
And in the Missouri of 2019, this kind of denial of service in a public accommodation is perfectly legal — so long as it’s sexual orientation or gender identity that motivates the denier.
That’s because the existing Missouri Human Rights Act, which former Gov. Eric Greitens and the state legislature severely weakened in 2017, has its limits.
“We already have coverage of race, religion and (gender) when it comes to housing, employment or public accommodations,” said state Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City. “You can’t tell interracial couples to get out, but you still can say no to serving gay couples.”
Razer was one of the sponsors of the latest version of MONA, the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act, which hadn’t even made its way out of committee when the General Assembly wrapped last month — the bill’s 21st consecutive legislative session failure.
These are polarized times in America — have you heard? — and the last thing we need is more of the fractious intolerance that’s taking hold at both extremes.
Because while Missouri restaurateurs are turning away lesbian couples, bar owners in Honolulu and Chicago are busy slamming their doors in the faces of supporters of President Donald Trump. Prairie Village’s St. Ann Catholic School tells a gay couple their kindergartener is unwelcome, and mobile app designers are helping MAGA-phobic shoppers avoid businesses whose management is on board with the current administration.
But Madison’s Café is opening up a frontier even beyond Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the seven-year legal saga that came to a quiet end in March of this year when all parties involved agreed to quit duking it out (possibly because the appointment of the resolutely conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court foretold the future).
That case was about compelled speech — whether a pastry artist should have to commit to icing a positive sentiment about gay marriage that he doesn’t agree with. That’s a world away from the Missouri eatery flatly refusing to serve a couple on the basis of sexual orientation alone.
Madison’s is surely putting its money where its mouth is. A statement on the homepage of its website reads: “In order to honor God, we will not host or facilitate any event that we believe directly contradicts our Christian principles. … We believe that the Bible teaches that the only true and appropriate marriage is the union of one man and one woman, as created, and that other types of marriage are immoral. We also believe that it is our religious duty not to aid or assist others to act immorally.”
“If you’re so callous that you’re willing to turn away money, then that’s your dumb business decision,” said Razer, and he’s right there. For all the whining about corporate America’s supposed leftward turn, establishments that court patrons from all walks of life are simply following a lesson from Business 101: Expanding your customer base is generally better than narrowing it.
Moreover, Madison’s already serves customers from across the LGBT spectrum all the time, whether management realizes it or not — as do the tae kwon do studio, periodontist and pizzeria that the café shares a strip mall with.
June is LGBT Pride Month, but this is a question for every day: When the best and brightest students with STEM degrees start their job searches, or when boards of directors seek new locations to expand their footprint, what face should Missouri present to the rest of the world? Is this a place where all are welcome, or will we be forever known as the Show-Me Discrimination State?