Beloftebos owners, Andries and Coia de Villiers (YouTube)
The owners of the Beloftebos wedding venue, which continues to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds, claim that they are the real victims of discrimination.
On Monday, they lodged opposing papers in the Cape High Court (sitting as the Equality Court) in response to a case filed against them by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Andries and Coia 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.”
In a statement released by conservative Christian lobby group Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), which is representing the Western Cape venue, the owners have denied that their policy amounts to unfair discrimination against LGBT+ people.
Bizarrely, they have asked the Equality Court “to find that the SAHRC unfairly discriminated against them on grounds of conscience, religion and belief, and that the Commission is biased and prejudiced in its treatment of them and their belief system.”
The owners believe that they are entitled to use their personal beliefs to choose who they will or won’t serve, in violation of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and the Constitution which protect vulnerable groups on grounds such as sexual orientation.
They claim that their discrimination is not just against same-sex marriage and that they would equally decline to host any other event that conflicts with their Biblical faith and beliefs. For example, they would not allow a Halloween party, a séance or fortune-telling activities at their venue, nor would they host a polygamous marriage celebration.
The owners insist that all people, whatever their sexual orientation, are welcome and will be served at the venue – as long as they don’t want to get married!
“Our decisions have absolutely nothing to do with a person’s race, gender, sexual choices, economic standing or any other personal factor but are purely based upon our desire to do what is right before God in accordance with our beliefs,” they said.
Turned away by Beloftebos: Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling on their engagement day
Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), said that if the court decides against them, the owners of Beloftebos “will be forced to participate in and celebrate events that violate their conscience, religion and belief or alternatively be forced to close their venue and cease to offer their services.”
He added: “Ultimately, this case is about freedom – the freedom for all of us to choose to live our lives in a way that is consistent with our beliefs. It is thus possible to support same-sex marriage and at the same time to stand with Beloftebos, because if the court can force them to perform work that goes against their conscience, religion and belief, it can force anyone to do so.”
The de Villiers are asking the public to contribute financially to their legal costs and have appeared in a video that paints them as victims of “a global trend where LGBT activists target Christian service providers, particularly those in the wedding industry.”
Beloftebos made international headlines earlier this year after the owners tuned away engaged Cape Town couple Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling. The venue previously rejected another same-sex couple in 2017.
In March, the SAHRC launched a case against the venue asking the courts to find that it has unfairly discriminated against same-sex couples and to order Beloftebos to end its policy. Meanwhile, Heekes and Watling have filed their own case against Beleftebos in the Equality Court. Swain has compared the couple’s fight for LGBT+ equality to “Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China.”
On Monday, Du Kloof Lodge, another wedding venue in the Western Cape, announced that it would reverse its policy of refusing to host same-sex weddings.