A Tennessee wedding venue is under fire after it backtracked on its willingness to host a commitment ceremony for a pair of gay veterans.
Anthony Wilfert and his partner, Brian Blas, of Nolensville, Tenn., thought they had found the perfect venue in Mint Springs Farm in Nashville. After a pair of employees took the couple on a tour of the property over the weekend, the Iraq war veterans said they were eager to formally book a date to celebrate their nine years together, hoping to invite family and friends to the picturesque venue. The couple say they were quite clear with the employees during the tour, explaining that the event was for the same-sex couple, and were assured that they would be welcome.
But just two days later, the venue's owner sent Wilfert an email explaining that the couple could not hold their ceremony at Mint Springs Farm, since the venue only hosts formal, legally recognized weddings.
"Unfortunately, until same-sex marriage is legal in the state of Tennessee, we cannot participate in this ceremony at our venue," read that email, viewed by Nashville's WSMV TV. "I wish we could help, I truly do, but our hands are tied in this situation."
Wilfert and Blas met while serving together at Kentucky's Fort Campbell and became a couple nine years ago. Both did tours of duty in Iraq, serving under the since-repealed "don't ask, don't tell," policy, which banned open service by LGB soldiers.
"To have fought in the military for freedoms and liberties of all Americans, it can be quite deflating to come back and now fight a whole new set of obstacles," Wilfert told WSMV.
An owner at Mint Springs Farm told the local news network that its policy is tied to state law and noted that the refusal doesn't reflect the company's position about marriage equality.
"We are deeply sorry that a staff member of ours was unaware of our policy and truly understand the disappointment of this couple," said the statement to WSMV. "Our employee was simply trying to be helpful to this couple who visited our venue after hours."
"We only do weddings at our facility," the statement continued. "When we went into this endeavor, we knew that due to the nature of our business, this situation would arise. However, Tennessee law currently states that same-sex marriage is prohibited by the Tennessee State Constitution. Because we only host weddings, we cannot violate Tennessee law."
The couple say they will continue to look for a venue that will welcome them, regardless of the legal status of their union. Nevertheless, they were frustrated that the private, secular venue denied their request. Tennessee's existing nondiscrimination law does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but the Republican-controlled legislature recently approved a "religious freedom" bill that would mandate opportunities for religious students to express their faith in public forums before every major school gathering. The state's Republican governor has not yet indicated whether he'll sign the bill into law.
In related news out of Tennessee, a federal appeals court just invalidated the recently recognized marriages of three same-sex couples who had married in other states, then moved to Tennessee. Their lawsuit, which has yet to be scheduled for argument in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeks to strike down Tennessee's statutory and constitutional prohibitions on marriage equality.
Watch WMSV's report below.