A pizza business in Indiana has reopened on Thursday for customers after facing backlash surrounding comments made by the owner in regards to same-sex marriages and religious freedom laws. Now the owner plans to help give back to others with the donations provided by supporters.
Tom Coyne of the Associated Press reported that Memories Pizza of Walkerton, Ind., was closed for eight days after owner Kevin O'Connor, 61, and his daughter, Crystal, made comments on a local television station expressing support over the state's new "religious freedom" law. He reopened his business to a full house of friends, regular customers and other supporters.
"It's a relief to get going again and try to get back to normal," O'Connor said.
O'Connor indicated to Coyne that his beliefs remained unchanged despite the criticism directed at him. He stated that although gays are welcome to dine at his establishment, he would turn down a chance to cater a same-sex wedding since it would conflict with his Christian beliefs.
"I'd do the same thing again. It's my belief. It's our belief. It's what we grew up on," he said. "I'm just sorry it comes to this because neither one of us dislike any of those people. I don't hold any grudges."
According to the Associated Press, supporters started a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $842,000, with donations from 29,160 contributors in 48 hours. The father of eight told Coyne that the collected money will be used to improve the restaurant and give some away to charity.
"I enjoy it. I don't want to leave here," O'Connor said. "I want this to be something that my daughter can enjoy."
Shekhar Bhatia of the Daily Mail asked O'Connor and his daughter on where some of the money might go.
"They revealed they are set to share their new fortune with disabled children, a women's help group, fire fighters, police trusts, Christian churches and Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, 70, who was fined after declaring she would not serve a gay wedding," Bhatia wrote.
Crystal, who is a devout Christian, told Bhatia that she was merely answering a hypothetical question, insisting that she had nothing to gain by her comments.
"I wasn't trying to score points. It is something I believe in from my heart and my faith about gay weddings," Crystal said. "But I don't regret what I said."
O'Connor told the Daily Mail that he was "overwhelmed" by the "positive feedback" he received from supporters. He emphasized that he and his family do not hate gay people.
"They are just angry. I am not really sure what they are so angry about," O'Connor said. "So many things today are topsy-turvy. What used to be wrong is now right and what used to be right is now wrong. I don't hold anything against them."
Whitney Doody, 26, told the Daily Mail that she harbored no ill feelings against the O'Connors and their belief system.
"They are entitled to feel how they feel," Doody said. "They have their religious rights just the same as I have my gay rights. They shouldn't suffer in the way they have."
According to the Associated Press, tank truck driver Ken Gumm waited for the pizzeria to reopen so he and his wife, Jeanne, could show their support.
"We couldn't wait to get down here," 66-year-old Gumm said. "To us this whole thing isn't about gay marriage. It's mostly about freedom of religion."