A devastated same-sex couple say they were turned away from a popular wedding venue “under the guise of Christianity”.
McCae Henderson and Ike Edwards got engaged on Valentine’s Day and began searching for wedding venues in North Carolina. They settled on Highgrove Estate, a romantic estate overlooking Lake Laurel in Fuquay-Varina.
The first red flag came when the couple filled out an intake form on the estate’s website, which only provided spaces for the name of the “bride” and “groom.”
“In the notes section I just said we were a groom and groom,” Edwards told ABC11. “It’s not like we can ignore that and then show up.”
Two days later, their application was refused. A Highgrove Estate employee told them the venue’s owners “have chosen not to participate in same-sex weddings at this time”.
The couple were dismayed by the decision. “Disheartening is the word I would use,” Henderson said. “We had not had anything like this throughout the process or really in our lives.
“This is us. We are gay and we did not choose to be gay,” he continued. “The fact that we don’t have access to things other people do is discrimination in my eyes.
“I think everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe to an extent. I don’t think you get to be racist because your religion tells you to be racist. I don’t think you get to be homophobic because your religion tells you to be homophobic.”
In a statement to ABC11, the venue insisted that it does not discriminate against any people or group as it welcomes LGBT+ employees and vendors.
However, the owners added: “We believe in the sanctity of marriage as God says in the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman and we choose to honour Him above what the world decides what marriage should be.”
This explanation didn’t fly with Henderson and Edwards. The couple say they have many friends who grew up Christian, and Highgrove Estate’s sentiment isn’t shared by them.
“To disguise their discrimination under the guise of Christianity was an insult to us,” Henderson told WRAL.
Asked about the couple’s frustration, the owners said: “We have been respectful and kind when letting them know we are not the best fit for them. When magazines and others chose not to do business with us because of this position, we respected that decision. That is their right.
“We do not judge them or retaliate because they chose to not respect our religious beliefs. The argument can just as easily be the same for us as we’re being made to feel like the other. We are not the ones attacking, slandering and threatening others for their beliefs.”
Both federal and state civil rights protect against discrimination based on race, colour, creed, religion, sex and national origin – but not sexual orientation or gender identity at present.
The situation highlights the desperate need for sweeping protections for LGBT+ people in all 50 states, which the Equality Act intends to provide.