A wedding venue in Mississippi has exposed itself as a hotbed of homophobia and racism after an employee told an inquiring customer that same-sex or interracial couples couldn’t get married there.
Their excuse? Religion.
LaKambria Welch was helping her brother, who is black, and his fiancée, who is white, with their wedding plans in Booneville, Mississippi, when, she said, the venue, Boone’s Camp Event Hall, informed her it would not be able to host the couple’s wedding “because of [the venue’s] beliefs.”
Welch then drove to Boone’s Camp Event Hall to ask about that in person — and she video-recorded the interaction.
“First of all, we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race — I mean, our Christian belief,” an employee in the video, who was not identified, said.
When Welch informed the employee that she and her family are also Christians, the employee replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
Welch proceeded to ask the employee where in the Bible it says to reject customers in discriminatory ways. The employee cut her off, saying, “Well, I don’t want to argue my faith.”
“We just don’t participate… we just choose not to,” the employee added.
As it turns out, Welch’s brother and his fiancé are not the only victims of the venue’s twisted rules. Katelynn Springsteen, who sought Boone Camp Event Hall’s services last year for a same-sex wedding ceremony, posted screenshots of a text conversation she had with the venue.
“Are you okay with it being a gay marriage ceremony?” she asked. The venue replied, “Thanks for checking with us Katelynn, but due to our Christian faith we would not be able to accommodate you.”
David and Donna Russell are listed as owners of the business on the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website. After Welch’s video went viral and picked up millions of views in a matter of days, Boone Camp Event Hall’s Facebook page was pulled down — but not before somebody, presumably Donna Russell — used the page to explain that the policy banning biracial marriage ceremonies is rooted in her childhood, according to screenshot captured by Facebook user Whitney Turner and reported by DeepSouth
“As a child growing up in Mississippi, our racial boundaries that were unstated were that of staying with your own race,” she wrote. “This was never verbally spoken, but it was an understood subject.”
Russell then rambled on about discussions she has had with her husband and their pastor regarding the Bible’s “content concerning biracial relationships,” saying that she thought for a moment and realized that she was “unable to recall instances where the Bible was used giving a verse that would support my decision.”
Finally, she admitted, she came “to the conclusion my decision which was based on what I had thought was correct to be supported by The Bible was incorrect!”
“To all those offended, hurt or felt condemn [sic] by my statement I truly apologize to you for my ignorance in not knowing the truth about this,” the post noted.
No apologies were made to same-sex couples for that discriminatory policy and there is no indication that the Russells have changed her mind about their rule banning gay weddings.
The public outcry prompted a response from city officials in Booneville, which is in the northeastern corner of the state and, as of the 2010 census, had a population of nearly 9,000 people.
“The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen are aware of the comments recently made by a privately owned business located within the city of Booneville,” the city stated in a Facebook post. “The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status. Furthermore, the City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies.”
It is not clear whether the business will face legal consequences, but the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations. That law, however, does not protect same-sex couples — the Supreme Court will hear cases about that issue next month — and queer folks in the state are currently subjected to a 2016 religious freedom bill giving people and businesses the right to reject service to LGBTQ people on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court offered an inconclusive ruling in a related case in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involved a baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.
The baker claimed that his religious beliefs and freedom of speech gave him the right to refuse service in defiance of the state’s nondiscrimination law, but the arguments he raised were sidestepped in the court’s opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not been not neutral in considering Phillips’ religious freedom claims.
Attempts to reach Boone’s Camp Event Hall were unsuccessful on September 3. Welch did not divulge the names of her brother and his fiancé, citing their desire for privacy.