Two women who were turned away when they tried to book the Beloftebos Wedding Venue for their reception, are taking the owners of the venue to the Equality Court, they announced on Thursday.
“This is far bigger than feeling hurt about a wedding venue. It is a question of human rights and equality before the law, regardless of sexual orientation,” read a statement issued on behalf of Megan Watling and Sasha-Lee Heekes.
When refusing to make the booking, Beloftebos staff referred the women to a statement on their website which explains that the Bible says only a man and a woman can get married, and that they do not want the “eternal consequences” of disobeying God.
Watling and Heekes decided to go to court “after careful consideration and with recognition of how this incident is indicative of the broader-lived reality of discrimination faced by the South African LGBTQIA+ community”.
“We do not embrace negativity, but we do believe in the values of our Constitution and the ideals set out in its preamble.
“In this instance, we feel that this part is particularly apt: ‘to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights’.
“It was our instinctive reaction that the actions of Beloftebos Wedding Venue did not rise to this ideal and that the tone taken in their media statement was dismissive of this.”
After consulting their legal team, Watling and Heekes were advised that Beloftebos’ conduct was in alleged contravention of the Constitution and the [Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act].
“In this instance, adhering to the values and responsibilities the Constitution places on us…requires us to take the unpleasant route of court action,” they said.
The women wanted to book the venue in Stanford for their wedding reception, planned for 2021. It was on their final list of venues which a family friend recommended.
Beloftebos’ website features pictures of pretty hydrangea-lined paths, and its introduction promises a destination that is a two-hour drive from Cape Town. It is billed as “a place where heaven meets earth”, offering “breathtaking forest weddings”, and a place where “extraordinary journeys begin”.
The venue ignored them when the women first wrote to them about the booking, so Watling called them. After that, they sent her an email telling them they did not host same-sex couples’ weddings.
The statement they referred the women to was first posted on their website on August 4, 2017 when they turned down Alexandra Thorne and Alex Lu.
“It is our conscience before God which prohibits us from hosting any other kind of ‘marriage’ on our property – not a fear or hatred of homosexual people (‘homophobia’) as we have unfairly been accused of.
“For us, to host (and thereby enable, or celebrate) a same-sex ‘marriage’, would be to dishonour and disobey God – potentially with eternal consequences. This is too great a cost and if forced to compromise on our faith, we would have to ‘obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).”
They also believe the Constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief, and that it guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and belief as a fundamental human right.
“As such, it is not correct that our decision (based upon our religious convictions and beliefs) not to host same-sex wedding ceremonies automatically amounts to unfair discrimination or is illegal.
“To date, no South African court has found that this is the case.”
Watling and Heekes said they never imagined they would be in this position.
“We cannot and will not stand idly by as personal beliefs are used to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation and gender.
“No matter how politely phrased and although violence was not incited, this is unfair discrimination.
“Our intention is to play our part in breaking the silence on the continued unquestioned and ungoverned use of personal beliefs as means to unfairly discriminate against South Africans on the margins, in this case, the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Supporters have rallied around the couple to assist with the legal challenge, launching a fund-raising page and activating a social media campaign.
In the meantime, SA Human Rights Commission commissioner André Gaum said they were finalising their own court papers to take Beloftebos to the Western Cape High Court over the 2017 matter involving Thorne and her partner. They intend to add the matter involving Watling and Heekes.
Thorne, a published author, lives in the US, according to her Facebook profile. Comment has been sought from her and will be added if received.