A Missouri couple is claiming an Italian restaurant refused to host their wedding rehearsal dinner after learning they are lesbian.
Kendall Brown and Mindy Rackley, a couple from the St. Louis area, hoped to have their wedding rehearsal dinner at Madison’s Cafe in O’Fallon. But those plans were derailed when the owner found out the dinner was for a same-sex wedding, Rackley wrote in a June 4 Facebook post.
“We have never been treated this way and have never been declined a service because [of] who we are,” Rackley wrote. “Our hearts hurt.”
Rackley said that her future mother-in-law called Madison’s Cafe on June 3 to make a reservation for a rehearsal dinner on June 13. The owner reportedly called Brown the next day with questions about the event, including the groom’s name.
“She said, ‘Your spouse is another woman?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” Brown told NBC affiliate KSDK-TV in St. Louis. “And she said, ’I’m sorry, we’re going to have to refer you to someone else because we don’t condone that kind of relationship.”
But the owner didn’t stop there, according to the couple. She told Brown that she was denying her out of “love” and that she believes that the bride is in an “unhealthy relationship.”
The interaction left both brides-to-be in tears, Rackley wrote on Facebook. She said she decided to share the experience on social media to “spread the word” about the restaurant’s non-affirming stances, “so that nobody needs to feel the way that we do now.”
“Nobody else needs to feel less [than] human, no one needs [to] feel rejected, dismissed or not enough,” Rackley wrote. “So many people have fought for our rights to be equal, to be free so that we don’t have to walk around and hide or be treated any different from any other human being in this world.”
HuffPost has reached out to Madison’s Cafe for comment. The restaurant recently updated its website with a mission statement portraying it as a faith-based business.
″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,” the restaurant’s website states. “We also believe that it is our religious duty not to aid or assist others to act immorally.”
Missouri’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex and national origin, but it does not explicitly offer protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to PROMO, Missouri’s LGBTQ advocacy organization.
As news about the couple’s experience spread online, people began to flood the restaurant’s Yelp account with negative reviews ― so much so that Yelp has temporarily disabled new posts, to ensure the reviews reflect actual consumer experiences and not reactions to the news.
The restaurant’s owners, Tom and Julie Kuhn, are Catholics, according to the conservative Catholic news site LifeSite. While official Catholic doctrine shuns same-sex marriage, studies suggest that many American Catholics have gradually grown more accepting of queer love. About 66% of Catholics believe that Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that established a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, was the right decision, according to a 2018 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. And while there’s been a modest increase in the number of Catholics who say small-business owners should be able to refuse services to gay and lesbian people, most Catholics (58%) oppose these kinds of religion-based service refusals.
PROMO spokesperson Shira Berkowitz told HuffPost that the organization believes Madison’s Cafe wrongfully discriminated against Brown and Rackley. PROMO is not representing the couple in any legal capacity.
“As a nation, we decided a long time ago that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms,” Berkowitz said in an email. “It’s shocking to realize that we are still debating whether it should be legal to discriminate against someone or turn them away from public services simply because of who they are.”