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Indiana pizzeria owner afraid business is finished after gay remarks

"I'm just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don't have anymore," said Kevin O'Connor, owner of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind.
By Doug G. Ware   |   April 2, 2015 at 1:13 AM

WALKERTON, Ind., April 1 (UPI) -- The owner of a small-town Indiana pizzeria said Wednesday that he is afraid his business may be finished following remarks to a local TV news reporter that his restaurant would not cater a same-sex wedding, due to his personal beliefs.

Kevin O'Connor, 61, owns a pizza parlor in Walkerton, Ind., called Memories Pizza. On Wednesday, he and his co-owner daughter, Crystal, told a reporter from South Bend, Ind., ABC affiliate WBND that their establishment would have to refuse to cater a gay wedding, if asked.

"If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we would have to say no," Crystal said.

"That's a lifestyle that you choose," Kevin said. "I choose to be heterosexual. They choose to be homosexual. You can't beat me over the head with something they choose to be."

It didn't take long for those comments to ignite a firestorm of anger online, where critics slammed O'Connor's business on its Facebook page and the customer-reviewed Yelp page for Memories Pizza.

"I can choose to never eat at this establishment owned by hateful, ignorant, homophobic fools," one reviewer said.

"Any restaurant that proactively discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation, color of skin, etc. deserves a one star rating," said another.

O'Connor, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times later Wednesday, expressed sorrow about the way his personal beliefs have been received by the public.

"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," he said. "If [same-sex couples] 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."

The O'Connors were interviewed by WBND-TV in response to the Indiana Legislature's passage last week of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- which critics say allows businesses to cite religious beliefs as a valid defense for discriminatory practices.

The new law has generated substantial criticism, from both inside and outside Indiana's government.

Republican Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has urged the legislature to repeal the law or heavily modify it. Several high-profile people and organizations have also blasted the law -- including the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), which is headquartered in Indianapolis and whose men's basketball Final Four will be played there Saturday and Monday.

"It's important to us because we're an employer here in this state. But most importantly ... it strikes at the core values of inclusion and diversity," NCAA President Mark Emmert said.

The reaction to the O'Connors' remarks has been so negative that the family has decided to close the pizzeria for the time being -- and they may never open again.

"I don't know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it's safe to reopen" Crystal O'Connor said in an interview with The Blaze television Wednesday.

Crystal said the family is also considering leaving the state.

"We said that we would serve anyone that walked in that door, even gays. But we would not condone a wedding. We would not cater to that," she said.

One of the most aggressive criticisms against the O'Connors was reportedly leveled by an Indiana high school golf coach, who tweeted, "Who's going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me?" She was subsequently suspended for the tweet and Walkerton police conducted an investigation into the message.

The coach's Twitter account has since been deactivated and she may face criminal charges, including harassment and intimidation, police said.

The O'Connors, meanwhile, have also found supporters who advocate their position. The Times reported that more than $36,000 had so far been raised for the family by sympathizers on the Internet.

"I'm just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don't have anymore," Kevin O'Connor told the Times. "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."

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