Rejected by Beloftebos: Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling on their engagement day
Beloftebos, in the Western Cape, continues to defy the law and constitution and has again humiliated another same-sex couple by refusing to host their wedding.
When Sasha-Lee Heekes, 24, a content writer, and Megan Watling, 25, a trainee accountant, got engaged in December last year, they were excited to start planning their dream wedding.
Despite being a couple of seven years, the engagement also represented their coming out to the broader world. “We had read horror stories of homophobic attacks and we did not want our love to be attacked,” Heekes told MambaOnline. “We have grown so much as people since we were together as teenagers. We finally felt ready and strong enough to take on whatever the world had to throw at us.”
After a recommendation from a family friend, the young couple went to the website of Beloftebos, a wedding venue in the town of Stanford. They were excited by what they saw, believing that it would be perfect to host their “forest fairy tale” wedding in April next year.
After filling out the online enquiry form on 7 January, they were met with silence. After a follow-up call and email, they finally received a response from Beloftebos owner Coia de Villiers.
De Villiers told the women that she could not allow their wedding at the venue because “based on our personal beliefs, we do not host weddings between couples of the same gender.”
She referred them to a statement on the Beloftebos website that elaborated on the Christian owners’ views on same-sex marriage. The statement affirms that their “Biblical conviction is that marriage is reserved for a life-long commitment between one man and one woman.”
While insisting that they are not homophobic, the owners say that “For us, to host (and thereby enable, or celebrate) a same-sex ‘marriage’, would be to dishonour and disobey God – potentially with eternal consequences.”
“We are so in love and so excited to get married…”
The statement was published in 2017 in response to a media firestorm around Beloftebos’ rejection of another same-sex couple that year.
Despite complaints lodged with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), a call for a boycott of the venue by the ANC Western Cape and the venue’s suspension by the Stanford tourism association, Beloftebos has continued its discriminatory policy. It’s a stance that demeans, humiliates and strips same-sex couples of their dignity,
“We were both heartbroken, disheartened and deeply hurt,” says Heekes. “It hurt me most to watch Megs break down in tears as she was so bewildered that anyone could think that we are not deserving of equal access to a venue and that they invalidated our love.”
Heekes adds: “Although they are entitled to their personal and religious beliefs, it hurt us to know that they are using that as a means to infringe on our human right to dignity and equality. To have your human rights violated simply because you love someone of the same sex, in a country where not so long ago, a similar reasoning was a significant contributor to mass human rights violations of people of colour, is unfathomable.”
Under the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, it is illegal to deny public services on the basis of sexual orientation.
Heekes explains that “I am not asking them to bless my marriage or accept it” and that “we are not contesting their constitutional right to freedom of religion or belief,” but says that this cannot be used to turn away customers from a business.
This view is shared by constitutional expert Pierre De Vos as well as recently retired Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron. He told MambaOnline in November that individuals can refuse to associate with LGBTIQ individuals in their personal lives but not in public offerings or public services. “Once [the person is] offering a service to the public you have to do it without discrimination on the basis of any of the characteristics or like characteristics in the Bill of Rights,” Cameron said.
Heekes has filed a formal complaint with the SAHRC “not to name and shame, not to ridicule or undermine anyone’s personal beliefs – but rather from a place of sincerity.” She says that “we want first and foremost no other queer couple to experience the turmoil we did, and we also know lots of people who would never knowingly support a business that was not pro-equality.”
The couple have started looking for a new venue for their wedding and are determined to not let this experience tarnish their engagement and nuptials.
“It has been a difficult pill to swallow, but we are so in love and so excited to get married,” says Heekes. “We have also received so much love and support – from people that we don’t even know – and it has just reminded us the importance of us continuing to live authentically and to do our part wherever we can to make the world a more tolerant and accepting place for the LGBTQIA+ community.”