Same-sex couple slam SAHRC over Beloftebos delays

Turned away by Beloftebos: Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling on their engagement day

The same-sex couple turned away by the Beloftebos wedding venue in January warn that delays by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) may put the case against the owners at risk.

On Monday, Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling responded to news that the SAHRC last week finally filed a replying affidavit in the case that the commission brought against the Western Cape venue in March. The affidavit also serves as the SAHRC’s answering affidavit in the counter-application brought by Beloftebos.

Beloftebos’ Christian owners, Coia and Andries de Villiers, have been accused of violating the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA or the Equality Act) by refusing to allow same-sex weddings on the premises because of their religious beliefs.

While the SAHRC case relates to another couple (Alex Thorne and her partner Alex Lu) who were turned away by Beloftebos in 2017, Heekes and Watling are glad that there is some progress in the matter. They said, however, that they “can’t help but note that the SAHRC should have filed the response more than five months ago.”

In a statement, the women said: “As a result, the SAHRC are now in the unfortunate position where they have to apply for condonation [for the court to allow] not only the late delivery of their latest affidavit but, in fact, for not bringing the matter to the Equality Court in a timeous fashion” in the first place.

They warned that Beloftebos “might very well oppose this condonation which will cause further delays in getting this matter to a conclusion and place the case at risk.”

The couple previously chose to challenge Beloftebos’ discriminatory policy in the courts through their own legal representative, having stated that they do not trust the SAHRC and its processes. They argue that the commission only took action against Beloftebos after their incident with the wedding venue made headlines and went viral earlier this year.

In the papers filed last week, Commissioner Andre Hurtley Gaum acknowledged that the SAHRC received the first complaint against Beloftebos as far back as September 2017.

He said, however, that the delays in only lodging the case in the Equality Court in March 2020, and then only responding to the Beloftebos counter-application last week were procedural, due to circumstance and out of the commission’s control. He also said that the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown had further delayed its response.

Heekes and Watling aren’t buying this. They point out that their legal representatives managed to file a substantial intervening application “in half the time” that it took the SAHRC to file its affidavit in the case, “all without the considerable support of the apparatus of State.”

The couple claim that the commission’s “lackadaisical” handling of the case “raises serious questions about the commitment the commission shows to upholding the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

It’s indeed hard not to notice that while other matters involving hate speech and discrimination are often speedily (and rightly so) resolved by the SAHRC and the courts, LGBTQ-related cases seem to take far longer to be concluded.

The matter of Cape Town hate preacher Oscar Bougardt is an example. While he was found guilty of hate speech in May 2018 and given a suspended 30-day jail sentence, he has continued to unrelentingly assail the LGBTQ community. Bougardt was only served with court papers in October 2019 for violating the terms of that conviction. And more than a year later, the case is still to be heard in court.

Heekes and Watling say they remain committed to their legal battle against Beloftebos to “ensure that the case for the LGBTQIA+ community will be adequately ventilated to the benefit of all the citizens of South Africa and the LGBTQIA+ community specifically.”

SA Human Rights Commission justifies delays in Beloftebos case

 

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