I was recently invited to debate the ongoing issue of wedding venues turning away same-sex couples on the Cliff Central online radio channel. The experience left me a little bewildered by some of the assumptions that were thrown around.
The discussion focused on a recent incident in which a gay couple was refused service by the well-known wedding venue Oakfield Farm in Honeydew, outside of Johannesburg, because of the owner’s Christian beliefs.
The owner, Matthew Stubbs, has since issued a couple of seemingly heartfelt “apologies,” including this one. He seems quite upset and perplexed that his actions have caused offence and hurt.
He insists that “our actions are determined not by any prejudice but by our religious beliefs and conscience,” and claims that, “I do not believe that there is any trace of discrimination in any form, be it on the grounds of racial or sexual orientation at Oakfield Farm.”
Now, please note that he hasn’t changed his mind about refusing to assist loving gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot, and instead urges us to go to the “many excellent venues nearby and further afield, that do not share our beliefs.”
During the debate, both the show’s host, Liza the Lesbian (who had earlier personally spoken to Stubbs on the phone), and one half of the couple who were discriminated against, said that they wouldn’t describe Stubbs as being homophobic.
Their reason? From what I gathered it’s because he seems to be a rather nice, reasonable and polite man who claims to have no beef with gay people and agrees that “everyone has inherent dignity that should be respected and protected” – except when they want to get married at his wedding venue.
I found this rather puzzling. It reminded me of that racist cliché that goes something along the lines of: “I don’t have a problem with black people, as long as my daughter doesn’t marry one.” Or, the gay version: “I love gay people, as long as my son doesn’t turn out to be one.”
Stubbs appears to see himself as something of a victim of his religious beliefs. He reportedly told our host that his personal convictions demand that he full comply with his religious doctrine and that he cannot select which tenets he wishes to abide by.
The comment is patently ridiculous because almost all Christians do very much pick and choose what rules to abide by, depending on the “norms” of the day (read your Bible, divorced, pork-eating, prawn-loving, woman’s rights-affirming, and wool and linen wearing Christian people).
It also speaks to the deeply entrenched belief that religion is the one area of life in which the rules, for some inexplicable reason, don’t need to apply. Despite living in a secular country, a Constitutional democracy, nogal, people regularly use religion as a “get out of jail free” card for discriminating against us. And sadly, many within our community are quite willing to defer to this way of thinking.
We appear, it seems, to be easily taken in by well-mannered, religiously-justified homophobia.
Perhaps the popular understanding of a homophobe is that he or she must be an obviously vile and hateful person who either physically or verbally attacks members of our community; ready with profanities and slurs at every turn.
To me, discriminatory behaviour, however subtle or wrapped in apologies and humble ideology, is a key marker of what it means to be a homophobe. A wedding venue owner may well be an otherwise pleasant person, but by not seeing our relationships as legitimate and not allowing us to celebrate them at his or her venue they are most certainly a bona fide homophobe. Let’s not fool ourselves otherwise.
Listen to the podcast of the Cliff Central discussion below.