One of the side-battles in the squabble over gay marriage recognition has been about public accommodations. Can the government force businesses to acknowledge and provide services tied to these relationships? Should a bakery, photographer or florist be forced by law to provide services for a gay wedding? In New Mexico and Washington State, the government is saying "yes." These private businesses are providing "public accommodations" and cannot engage in such discrimination, freedom of association (and market competition) be damned.
The outrage is annoying – who needs the government to deal with this when we've got Yelp and social pressures? I gave the subject matter some analysis last summer, but new cases keep cropping up. Last night, a completely different story highlighted how many folks have their own blinders when it comes to public accommodations. That is to say, people seem to care a lot more about public accommodations when they're the ones being shut out.
Let's head back to my old hometown of Barstow, Calif., population 22,000, in the middle of the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. One might guess that such a community gets a lot of revenue from tourists passing through town on the way to Vegas and back. One would be absolutely correct. Barstow pretty much depends on it, along with civilian military jobs at the nearby Army post and Marine depot.
There are a handful of small businesses in Barstow that exist only to serve Asian – particularly Korean – tour buses that pass through town. Some of them don't have conventional hours. They open up for the tour buses, feed them or let them shop there, and then close when the buses leave.
These Korean-targeting businesses have been there for years without any issue. But then one recently took over the location of a beloved community pizza parlor that shut down last year (that's a doozy of a story as well about how the county government throwing money around artificially inflated commercial rents to the detriment of the community it claims to be helping, but I digress). When residents stopped by hoping to be served like a typical restaurant and found it to be closed or less than accommodating, well, some folks got upset.
The Desert Dispatch reports:
Dae Ho Korean Restaurant located where the popular Straw Hat Pizza once operated has no posted business hours and local Mary Ann Legore said she felt excluded after only seeing tour groups entering.
"There are only so many restaurants in Barstow," she said. "If you find a good one you'd like to go to it instead of going 40-50 miles down the road. And I like Asian food."
Manager Kay Hong said the business is in fact open to the public although she admitted that they coordinate with tour bus groups and only open when they are expecting them to arrive. The groups are made up of about 50 people each time.
"The public is welcome, of course," Hong said.
She said the food is buffet-style, serving mostly salad, and your choice of curry over rice or spaghetti. However they don't have servers, menus or set business hours according to Hong.
A couple of story commenters defended Dae Ho's right to conduct business as they please, but there are also accusations of racism, allegations that something illegal must be going on there, and suggestions that they be shut down. Some seem amazed at the idea that there's a place that serves food but isn't actually designed to serve them.
I would love to see a Venn diagram of people who think florists and bakers should be able to refuse to serve gay weddings but believe the Korean restaurant should be forced to keep regular hours and serve all comers. I would also like to see the reverse – the Korean restaurant can serve who they want, but wedding service businesses are illegally discriminating if they won't sell to same-sex couples.
There are other Asian restaurants in Barstow, so Legore isn't actually missing anything. Based on the description of what they're serving, arguably she wouldn't be missing anything even if there weren't other Asian restaurants in Barstow, but there's no accounting for taste.