The owners of the Heritage Ranch, a picturesque wedding and event venue in Sedalia, Mo., have told one couple planning their big day they’re not welcome because they’re lesbians, according to a Missouri newspaper.
The news came as a shock to bride-to-be Rachel Cathey and her fianceé, Beverly Vaughn, when the women and Cathey's mother toured the venue last week and came face-to-face with owner Sara Howell's antigay beliefs.
“It is stunning," Cathey told the Sedalia Democrat of the venue. "It’s so pretty — we looked at each other and said ‘This is it, this is where we’re going to get married.’ We started talking about a place for the bride to get ready. Sara said ‘we have a bridal suite.’ I said, ‘We have two brides.’”
That’s when Howell dropped the bombshell that Heritage Ranch does not permit same-sex weddings at the venue.
“Before she could even finish I asked why and she said ‘because we’re Christian and we don’t,’” Cathey told the paper.
Howell’s husband, Josh, who co-owns Heritage Ranch, explained to the Democrat why the facility doesn’t allow same-sex marriages:
“It is a violation of our religious beliefs. We would have to violate our conscious to allow that to occur here. We feel we would be dishonoring God, who we serve and He was the one who gave us this business and it is only right we serve him and honor him with it. It would be a sin for us to allow that, so we could not in good conscious do that.”
This isn’t the first time the Howells have turned away an LGBT couple, he told the newspaper, noting that a gay man who previously inquired about holding a wedding there “understood” that such a ceremony was against their Christian beliefs.
“It’s not a personal matter,” Howell told the newspaper. “It’s a matter of religious conviction and personal belief.”
Since the story broke, the Howells say they’ve been bombarded with several hateful messages, over the phone and on social media, regarding their beliefs and the refusal to allow same-sex couples to book Heritage Ranch for a wedding.
Howell told the paper he and his wife are within their rights to deny service to Cathey, as the event venue is housed on private property, though it is accessible to the public.
“This is a public access venue. It’s on private property, it’s privately run and privately owned,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cathey and Vaughn have received the backing of a statewide LGBT group, Promoting Equality for All Missourians, otherwise known as PROMO.
“We are working to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, known as MONA,” PROMO Interim Director Steph Perkins told the Democrat. “It would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories to the Human Rights Statute that protects against discrimination in employment, housing, access to public services. Businesses that are open to the public — provide public accommodation — currently cannot deny service based on race, religion (and national origin, ancestry, gender or age). With MONA that would include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
This lack of legal protection recently cost a Missouri man his case against a former employer, who he accused of calling him a slur and firing him for being gay. Attorneys for the defendant successfully argued that in Missouri it's not illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee for being gay.
“Unlike many other states, Missouri has not enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals by adding sexual orientation as a protected status in the Missouri Human Rights Act,” Chief Judge James Welsh wrote in his opinion ruling in favor of the gay man's former employer last month.
Missouri is one of 27 states that do not have nondiscrimination laws to protect LGBT citizens, and no federal legislation currently exists to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, or public acommodation.