A same-sex couple from Cape Town is infuriated with a wedding venue after they were denied a booking based on their sexual orientation.
After filling out an online enquiry form for Beloftebos Wedding Venue in Stanford, the brides-to-be Megan and Sasha-Lee were contacted by the venue’s owner Coia de Villiers and told their request had been denied, because of “personal beliefs”.
De Villiers further explained to the couple in an email that they cannot allow the marriage to take place at their venue because they only host heterosexual wedding ceremonies. The establishment further reiterates in an online media statement that they “do not wish to offend any parties but this is simply their venue policy”.
The couple Sasha-Lee Heekes (24) and Megan Watling (25) got engaged over the festive season and planned their wedding for April 2021. They have been together for seven years. When they heard their booking was rejected, they were devastated.
“We were both heartbroken, and disheartened – to have your human rights violated simply because you love someone of the same sex. This in a country where not so long ago, similar reasoning was a significant contributor to mass human rights violations of people of colour, is unfathomable. We knew that we could not simply accept what had happened,” said the pair.
This is not the first time a same-sex couple has been denied access to the venue. Others have also experienced the same feedback in previous years.
“We are now aware that this particular venue has been in the news before for the exact same reason – but it does not seem as if it was taken to task. We fully intend on seeing this to its conclusion.
“We have lodged a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). We have also turned to social media, despite the fact that it has made us vulnerable to hateful and hurtful remarks,” they said.
They did this to create awareness so that queer people do not experience the same turmoil they have. The pair feel a sense of responsibility to stand up for their community following the incident.
“This is so much bigger than just us and our wedding. If there is any legal counsel out there that is willing to assist us in this process, we would love for them to join us in our endeavors to fight the continued lived reality of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We also ask that people in spaces of privilege support businesses that support equality as well as organisations that support the LGBTQIA+ community. Lastly, we ask everyone to have the courage to speak out against discrimination, of course when it is safe to do so.”
Speaking on behalf of Beloftebos, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa, Micheal Swain, said section 9 of the constitution clearly states that unfair discrimination is against the law, but there is more to it.
“In the same section of the constitution it states that no person may be unfairly discriminated against for their sex, race or religion. The venue is simply saying that in good conscious and in accordance with their religious beliefs and convictions they cannot host the wedding of a same-sex couple. This is not meant to be hurtful or judgmental although this is how it may feel to the couple. The owners of the venue are simply asking that just as they respect the couple’s right to be wed, their rights to follow their beliefs should also be respected,” explained Swain.
He referred to the statement on the website which is their official stance and should be taken as such.
“We, the owners of Beloftebos are Christians who seek to honour and obey God in everything we do, including the way in which we operate our business (the wedding venue). While the venue is available to people of all race, our Biblical conviction is that marriage is reserved for a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. This is a deeply held belief (not only for us, but for the vast majority of Christians around the world for over 2 000 years) and is a foundational part of our faith as Christians,” reads the statement.
Professor Pierre de Vos from the University of Cape Town’s Department of Public Law has had a similar interaction with this venue. In 2017 De Vos reported the business to the SAHRC and exposed the venue to public scrutiny for discrimination against same-sex couples.
“It’s clear that if you offer a service to the public you are subject to the equality act. And if you are a business you are not allow to practice discrimination against anyone. Establishments are only allowed to practice discrimination if it directly relates to their religion, like in the case of a church or any other religious establishment,” says De Vos.
If you are a same-sex couple or know of one dealing with a similar situation De Vos says there are two ways to handle it.
“Firstly you can shame the business on social media and expose what they are doing to the public. This could lead to establishments being more weary of doing such things or changing their stance. Secondly, you can go to the South African Human Rights Commission so they can take your case to the Human Equality Court to take it further,” Vos added.