Beloftebos same-sex couple reject SAHRC court action

Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling say they don’t trust the SAHRC

The same-sex couple who were recently turned away by the Beloftebos wedding venue have objected to the way that the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is handling the matter.

On Monday, the commission held a media briefing at the Western Cape High Court after it formally filed papers against Beloftebos.

In a statement, the SAHRC said it views “Beloftebos’ conduct as unconstitutional as one cannot on the basis of their religious beliefs, discriminate against the sexual orientation of others.”

The action in the Equality Court is not only based on the most recent incident concerning Megan Watling and Sasha-Lee Heekes in January, but also the venue’s rejection of another same-sex couple in 2017.

“We will request the court to declare that Beloftebos and its owners are in breach of their obligations not to discriminate unfairly in terms of the Equality Court,” said SA Human Rights Commissioner Andre Gaum. “Secondly, we will also request the court to restrain the venue and its owners from continuing to apply the blanket policy.”

The owners of Beloftebos, Cornelia and Andries de Villiers, refuse to host same-sex weddings at their venue because their “Biblical conviction is that marriage is reserved for a life-long commitment between one man and one woman.”

Meanwhile, Watling and Heekes have expressed their discontent with the SAHRC and refused to take part in the commission’s action, choosing to instead take Beloftebos to the Equality Court independently.

According to a media statement, the women argue that the SAHRC has dragged its feet in the matter and proved to be ineffective by not having already taken action again the venue, despite receiving numerous complaints about the 2017 incident.

After meeting the SAHRC and the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) the parties agreed to proceed against Belofteos as separate entities.

Heekes then wrote to the SAHRC “thanking them for their efforts in this regard but withdrawing our complaint and asking them to not seek relief on our behalf” as “we simply do not trust the SAHRC to act in our best interests.”

The women claim that the SAHRC’s papers are “lacking in several areas,” noting that the original couple discriminated against by Beloftebos in 2017 have since emigrated.

Furthermore, Watling and Heekes’ legal team accuse the SAHRC of filing the case on Monday in order to do so before they did simply for “media attention.” They cited an internal SAHRC email which states that the “commission would prefer to lodge [court papers] first.”

“The true intention behind the sudden filing of the case against Beloftebos… has nothing to do with human rights or concern for the LGBTQIA+ community but is a case of cheap politics on behalf of the SAHRC,” claimed Watling and Heekes’s legal representative.

“The SAHRC’s intention to file before [us] is solely as a power play in response to our withdrawal from their proceedings; while the fact remains that had they addressed the incident in 2017, we (Megan and Sasha) and the number of other couples turned away by the venue would never have suffered the unfair discrimination and humiliation,” said the women.

The papers the couple intend to file are in the process of being prepared by their legal representatives. “Words cannot describe our disappointment in the way the Western Cape Office of the SAHRC has first disregarded this matter and then for the sake of saving face turned to legal action for media attention,” said Watling and Heekes.

MambaOnline contacted SAHRC Western Cape Acting Provincial Manager Bahia Sterris for comment on the matter but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.

Sterris did, however, tell News24 that the couple’s statement was “untrue and slanderous”. She further threatened to investigate the leak of the email as it “may amount to an interference in an investigation conducted by the commission and such person(s), if found guilty of an offence, may be fined or imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months”.

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