Right To Discriminate

Wedding Venue In Missouri Denies Lesbian Couple, Because They Can

web1_imageSame-sex weddings are legal nationwide, but finding a place to do it isn’t always easy, as a lesbian couple found out while they were planning their wedding ceremony.

According to the Sedalia Democrat, Rachel Cathey and Beverly Vaughn (photo right), a lesbian couple from the Kansas City area, are currently planning their wedding and made an appointment to check out an event venue called Heritage Ranch, approximately 90 miles east in the town of Sedalia, Mo.

But when they arrived to look around, they were told by owner Sara Howell that the couple would not be allowed to host their wedding on the property. Howell’s reason: “we’re Christian and we don’t.”

Cathey had communicated with Howell previously when scheduling the property tour, but had not mentioned the wedding was for two women, so they were rebuffed only when they showed up in all their lesbionic splendor. But in an interview with the Democrat, Sara’s husband Josh Howell explained that the couple should not take their decision personally:

“It is a violation of our religious beliefs,” Josh Howell said. “…We feel we would be dishonoring God, who we serve and He was the one who gave us this business and it is only right we serve him and honor him with it. It would be a sin for us to allow that, so we could not in good conscious do that…”

The situation was posted Monday in a post on PROMOonline.org. Josh and Sara have read the post, and he wanted to point out something Cathey wrote.

“It’s important to note, one of them said they stopped listening once my wife said she was Christian,” he said. “If they had listened, they’d see it’s not a personal matter, it’s a matter of religious conviction and personal belief.”

Although Mr. Howell failed at distinguishing between “personal matter” and “personal belief,” he later explained that it was his right to deny their wedding plans because it is his property. On that point, he is correct. Private businesses usually have the right to discriminate against whomever they wish, if there are no anti-discrimination laws against the practice. For example, there was the story of the whiny bakers in Oregon who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, and they were fined $135,000 for breaking the law. But that law was specific to the state of Oregon, which enacted astate-wide LGBT anti-discrimination law in 2007. The state of Missouri does not have any such law, nor does the town of Sedalia on a local level.

The situation at Heritage Ranch arose the same week an LGBT anti-discrimination law was up for vote in Houston, Texas, and was soundly defeated at the polls. This one seemed like an easy win — Houston has a lesbian mayor — but it failed largely because the vast majority of eligible voters in the city did not vote. And, of course, the Christian Right developed a slick advertising campaign.

What will happen with Heritage Ranch? Probably not much. They will get lots of hate emails and phone messages from angry pro-LGBT people, but then they will get right-wing supporters to hold their weddings there. And of course they will welcome LGBT people who are wedding planners, florists, caterers, musicians and DJs to work there, as well as be guests of other people’s weddings. Such are the moral dilemmas of the community, as we are expected to politely absorb the impact of these instances of passive humiliation.

This is why anti-discrimination laws are important. Granted, there are lots of venues in Missouri that would love to host a gay wedding. But there will come a time when someone may not have a choice to go someplace else, but they still need to get through life, and for that they may need to have the law on their side.

Currently, in Missouri and 27 other states, it is not.

(For a list of states that do and do not have LGBT anti-discrimination laws in effect, see this map on Think Progress.)

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