A Virginia restaurant recently decided to cancel the reservation of a conservative Christian group that opposes marriage equality and abortion rights because many of the eatery’s workers are women and/or LGBTQ+ people. In response, the Christian group compared the move to the *checks notes* age of segregation.
On November 30, Metzger Bar and Butchery in Richmond, Virginia, accepted a group reservation but then canceled it once they learned it was for The Family Foundation, a non-profit that “advocate[s] for policies based on Biblical principles.”
The restaurant wrote in an Instagram post that the reservation was for “a group of donors to a political organization that seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic human rights in Virginia.” The post continues: “We have always refused service to anyone for making our staff uncomfortable or unsafe and this was the driving force behind our decision...All of our staff are people with rights who deserve dignity and a safe work environment.” In a subsequent post, Metzger said it would donate proceeds of a cocktail to the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Equality Virginia.
Family Foundation president Victoria Cobb took to the group’s blog with a post titled, “We’ve Been Canceled! Again,” and had the audacity to compare the situation to the whites-only lunch counters of the 1950s:
Welcome to the 21st century, where people who likely consider themselves “progressives” attempt to recreate an environment from the 1950s and early 60s, when people were denied food service due to their race. Thankfully, in 1960, 34 brave Virginia Union University students held a peaceful lunch counter sit-in at Thalhimers Department store in Richmond to demand service at a whites-only counter.
Cobb also decried the “double standard of the left, where some believe Jack Phillips [the owner of the Colorado bakery in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case] must be forced to create a wedding cake as part of the celebration of a same-sex ceremony but any business should be able to deny basic goods and services to those who hold biblical values around marriage.”
Except, the restaurant’s decision wasn’t based on the Family Foundation’s Christian religion, it was based on the group’s specific human rights positions. Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas, told the Washington Post that yes, it is illegal to discriminate based on religion alone, but in this case: “It’s about the overall positions and policies the group has taken—it’s not about Christian vs. non-Christian.” (For example, it doesn’t seem likely that the restaurant would cancel the booking of a Christian group that supports LGBTQ+ and abortion rights.)
Even more ironic is that, just this week, the Supreme Court heard a case in which a different Colorado business owner said a state law that prevents her from denying services to people based on her religious beliefs is a violation of her rights. It’s a follow-up case from Masterpiece Cakeshop and, now that the court is stacked 6-3, it looks very much like it will rule in favor of the website designer. (The case is 303 Creative v. Elenis.)
Essentially, the Family Foundation is claiming that they were being denied service for their religious beliefs, which violates their rights. In the shadow of the Supreme Court case, this complaint shows the hypocrisy of conservatives wanting to deny customers services based on their own anti-choice or anti-LGBTQ beliefs but getting pissed when a business denies them services based on their anti-choice or anti-LGBTQ beliefs.
In fact, Cobb herself was a proponent of a 2016 bill that would have granted religious organizations the ability to not offer services for weddings or marriages that go against their beliefs—which is hilarious to read now. “The heavy hand of government is coercing businesses to participate in same-sex unions,” Cobb said at the time.
It’s darkly funny that Cobb invoked segregation as the eventual decision in 303 Creative could literally set this country back decades. That’s because the Supreme Court accepted the case on free speech grounds, not religious grounds, so businesses could hypothetically refuse service to interracial couples, or Black people more generally, or Muslim people, or Jewish people. We’re looking at a possible free speech exemption from civil rights laws—but sure, go ahead and cry about cancel culture.