South African venue sued after refusing to host same-sex wedding

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STANFORD, South Africa – In January 2020 a lesbian couple, Sasha-Lee Heekes, 24, and Megan Watling, 25, submitted an online booking for a wedding venue named Beloftebos located in Stanford in the Western Cape, South Africa. The owners of the venue, Andries and Coia de Villiers, informed the couple that she would not permit same-sex couples to host their weddings at Beloftebos.

De Villiers referred the couple to a statement on Beloftebos’ website dated 4 August 2017:

“While the venue is available to people of all race, [sic] 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 2000 years) and is a foundational part of our faith as Christians.”

The de Villiers insisted they denial of services is not homophobic but rather a fear ‘eternal consequences’ should they host same-sex weddings.

Image credit: Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team from Germany –  CC BY 2.0

 

The statement has serious implications not only for LGBTQ+ identified persons but also for faiths that may not follow such strict beliefs and assumptions about marriage rights.

In response to the denial of services, Advocate Andre Gaum, a Commissioner for the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), has confirmed that the venue is being investigated after Heekes and Watling filed a complaint with the SAHRC.

“Beloftebos is not acting constitutionally and therefore we will also take up this particular matter,” Gaum said. “We had a previous complaint of a gay couple at Beloftebos some time ago (Alexandra Thorne and Ms. Alex Lu in 2017) and we are finalizing our papers. We believe that one cannot, on the basis of your religious beliefs, trample on other rights. Especially the right to equality, human dignity and so on.”

Michael Swain, the Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), a conservative Christian lobby group representing the venue told CNN, “LGBT rights do not trump religious rights under South Africa’s constitution. The owners don’t just rent out the venue, they are also actively involved in the arrangement, which they are simply saying they do not believe they can do in good conscience.”

Professor Pierre de Vos, a renowned South African constitutional law expert responded to the unsupported legal justification by Swain on Twitter saying “Beloftebos is breaking the law with the support of Freedom of Religion SA.”

The “Gay Flag of South Africa” – Public  domain

 

In South Africa, the right to sexual orientation is guaranteed and protected by our nation’s constitution. Section 9 of the Constitution, 1996, entitled ‘Equality’, reads:

9. (1) Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

(2) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.

(3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

(4) No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.

(5) Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.

The Constitution, 1996.

 

Section 9 subsections 3 and 4 expressly prohibit differentiation on the grounds of sexual orientation. Any discrimination against sexual orientation is automatically unfair discrimination and prohibited by law.

Section 6 of The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 provides that “Neither the State nor any person may unfairly discriminate against any person.”

This latest incident of unfair discrimination against a same-sex couple follows in the wake of an affirmative Cape Town High Court ruling protecting the rights of same-sex couples to be named as joint parents of a child conceived through in-vitro fertilization.

The Stanford Association of Tourism & Business (ST&B) said it “deeply regrets the situation which has arisen resulting from a same-sex couple seeking to marry at a local wedding venue. We would like to reiterate our standpoint that we are governed not only by the ST&B constitution but also by that of our country, South Africa, and we do not support any form of discrimination. We continue to welcome all visitors to our beautiful village and region.”

Pending legal action against the venue owner in the Cape Town High Court (sitting as an Equality Court in this matter), the venue has closed its doors.

An online petition has been started in support of legal action against the venue.