A same-sex couple was angered and disappointed after a wedding venue in the Western Cape declined to host their wedding – and it wasn't the first time the venue declined to host a function. A similar decision was made in 2017.
But the owners of the venue, Beloftebos, believe that they are exercising their constitutional right to freedom of belief when they refuse to host weddings for LGBTQI+ couples, a spokesperson for Freedom of Religion SA (FOR SA) said on their behalf.
"Section 9 of the Constitution states that you can't unfairly discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation; but one right does not trump another right," said Michael Swain, executive director of FOR SA.
"Equally, they (Beloftebos) also have constitutional rights, and therefore all they are basically asking is that their rights are respected."
This comes after Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling were reminded of the venue's policy when they tried to book their wedding at the venue in Stanford, near Hermanus, in the Western Cape.
Megan posted on Facebook: After such a wonderful response to our engagement, we received this email this morning from Beloftebos.
"At first I cried, but then I was overwhelmed with anger. How, in 2020, is this still a reality? Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2006, but yet people still believe that they can justify hate and bigotry and quote a God that I don't believe would stand for said hate and bigotry.
"We do not ask that anyone approves or even accepts our love, but we do deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, just like anyone else.
"I implore that you do not support businesses that do not believe that love comes in all shapes and sizes.
"Please feel free to share," she wrote with a line of hearts depicting the Pride flag's colours.
She also shared correspondence from Beloftebos: "Thanks for your mail and phone call and for taking the time to fill in the enquiry form. I apologise for the delay in answering your enquiry.
"Unfortunately, we will not be able to host your wedding at Beloftebos on April 3rd 2021. The reason for that is that, based on our personal beliefs, we do not host weddings between couples of the same gender.
"In a media statement on our website we try to explain where we come from and why we have decided this.
"May both of you really have a very blessed 2020."
A link to a standing statement was included.
An extract reads:
"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[s], 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. "This belief in turn guides our venue’s policy. 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). "At the same time, we appreciate and respect that South Africa is an open and democratic society where people are free to live their lives as they choose – including the right to conclude same-sex 'marriages'. We respect this freedom of choice, and simply ask that our freedom of choice (to believe, and live our lives according to, the Bible) be respected also. Our Constitution does not require everyone to believe the same, and does not punish people for holding divergent beliefs and opinions."
The permanent statement was posted after an uproar in 2017, when it turned down a request to host the wedding of Alexandra Thorne and Alex Lu, News24 reported at the time.
'Right to believe' protected
"We have taken legal advice and been advised that the Constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on grounds of conscience, religion and belief (s 9) – and specifically also guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and belief as a fundamental human right (s 15). 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," the statement reads.
Swain told News24 on Friday that the hosts' beliefs were based on the evangelical position of marriage being between a man and woman.
Asked to supply biblical instruction, there was an initial struggle due to problems with the internet, so a hard copy of the Bible was referred to. He also said FOR SA represented all faiths, not just Christianity, hence him not being able to quote the Christian Bible verse immediately.
He said the evangelical view was supported in Mark, Chapter 10, Verse 6 which, he said, states that a man shall be with a woman.
Asked about whether other parts of the Bible may contradict this, he said: "The issue isn't so much about interpretation of scripture, you are entitled to believe what you want to believe, or not."
He continued: "The point is, that under the Constitution, the right to believe what you do believe, is protected.
"There have been other situations, but there has been no judgment on this matter to date."
When contacted by News24, Watling said they were feeling overwhelmed and that a spokesperson would speak on their behalf.
Details of their next steps were not available.