Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Some years ago, Pam Regentin and I were the last two bakers standing in Shortt Supply’s first pie-baking contest. We stood side by side, chatting nervously as the judges made their decision for first place. We talked about our kids and baking. We didn’t talk about the $1,000 first prize, but I’m sure we were both already thinking about how we’d spend it.
Pam won. I was genuinely happy for her, we hugged, and she tearfully accepted the prize money. I have seen her occasionally at the grocery store and we’ve exchanged pleasantries. Winning that contest helped her launch her baking business. And I went on to open Viento, and then, Nora’s Table in 2006.
So we have some things in common, Pam and I: We’re food service professionals, pie mavens, moms, Christians.
I’m not a lawyer, but I think we are both providers of public accommodations. Oregon Revised Statute 59A.400 says public accommodations “… means any place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements or otherwise.”
The law also defines who Pam and I must provide those services to: “all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is 18 years of age or older.” (ORS 659A.403)
So at Nora’s, that means I serve pretty much everybody. I’m sure there have been times when I’ve served child abusers, thieves, liars and just plain downright rude characters. Strangely enough, for those characteristics alone, I can ask those people to leave my restaurant.
I can refuse to serve them, if for some reason I know they are liars, child abusers or thieves, since I find those qualities offensive. I can ask them to leave if they are too loud, or have extremely bad taste in Bermuda shorts. Those are my rights.
But the law says that I must provide, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction, services to people who fit into Oregon’s protected class statuses, and that includes gay and lesbian people.
When Pam says the media has misinterpreted her actions, I think she may have missed this important aspect of the law. Again, I’m not an attorney, but if I must provide cakes without any distinction, discrimination or restriction, I don’t think I can refuse a wedding cake, and offer, perhaps, instead, a birthday cake. That is a restriction on my services that I would provide to others.
In Pam’s recent opinion piece in this paper, she said, “I cannot force Katie Pugh to abide by what I believe; neither can she nor anyone who supports her force me to do the same.” Beliefs are not the issue here, and the state’s civil rights laws do not endeavor to change anyone’s belief.
A racist hotel owner may continue to hate a person of color, and as long as he provides a hotel room, an equal accommodation, he has obeyed the law. His heart is in God’s hands.
Pam and I do have one distinct difference: This past summer, our daughter Abbey married her wife Shannon on the Hood River waterfront. No, it is not legal in Oregon, but it is such a blessed union in all our families’ eyes.
I would never try to change Pam’s beliefs. But I do hope she will come to understand that the law is designed to give Abbey and Shannon and so many others the freedom to live their lives, to shop and to eat and dine and work and live wherever they choose. And order a wedding cake with no distinction, discrimination or restriction.
Kathy Watson lives in Hood River.