A gay couple says they were turned away from a popular wedding venue in North Carolina due to the owner’s religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
McCae Henderson and Ike Edwards got engaged on Valentine’s Day and began looking for wedding venues in the area. One of the venues they looked into was Highgrove Estate in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., an elegant white home surrounded by forestry, far from the city.
“We thought it was very picturesque,” Edwards said, “Nice outdoor area. We thought it would be great for a spring wedding.”
The couple filled out a form on the estate’s website, which asked for the name of the “bride” and “groom.”
“In the notes section I just said we were a groom and groom,” Edwards told Raleigh-area ABC affiliate WTVD. “It’s not like we can ignore that and then show up.”
Unfortunately, Edwards and Henderson soon learned that their business was not welcome at Highgrove Estate.
An employee of Highgrove wrote an email back to the couple, telling them, “[O]ur owner has unfortunately chosen not to participate in same-sex weddings at this time. However, she wants to ensure that you still have the best wedding day experience possible, and has given me a list of several other wonderful venues in the area that may interest you.”
Henderson and Edwards say they were shocked to receive such a response.
“We haven’t really got that response from any venue or vendor that we reached out to,” Henderson said, calling it a “disheartening” experience. “To see that in 2021 was very surprising to us because we haven’t faced anything like that.”
Unfortunately for the couple, due to a lack of any nondiscrimination laws protecting sexual orientation in North Carolina, Highgrove is within its rights to refuse to rent out their estate or provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples.
On its Instagram page, Highgrove has posted a statement reading, in part: “Highgrove Estate desires that all people’s weddings to be the most joyful in their lives. Highgrove also respects people’s differences regarding marriage. For this reason, we will always be kind and caring when these differences arise. Although Highgrove knows it cannot deliver what is being requested as the company holds strong to its Christian beliefs.”
But Henderson and Edwards, who were raised Christian and have many Christian friends who do not share that same opposition to same-sex marriage, told WTVD they believe Highgrove is simply trying to use its purported religious beliefs to justify discrimination.
“This is us. We are gay and we did not choose to be gay,” Henderson said. “The fact that we don’t have access to things other people do is discrimination in my eyes. I think everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe to an extent. I don’t think you get to be racist because your religion tells you to be racist. I don’t think you get to be homophobic because your religion tells you to be homophobic.”
The couple posted the response from Highgrove to social media, and said they’ve been “moved” by the great amount of support they’ve received from people, including offers from other venues willing to host their wedding.
Highgrove has said at least one other couple has requested to cancel its contract, which the owners honored. But they claim they’ve also received threats since Henderson and Edwards’ story went public. The venue has even taken down its Facebook page due to negative comments.
“The backlash is sad, it’s been aggressive, hateful and designed to cause fear,” the owners told WTVD. “What they are asking is for us to believe just like them and they will leave us alone. We stand by our beliefs in the sanctity of marriage and that is not going to change. We wish [Henderson and Edwards] to find the very best venue and that their special day is wonderful.”
Henderson is proud to have spoken up about the experience, hoping others will not experience the same rejection.
“I think the reason we’re doing this is we need to push the needle towards eliminating discrimination in private businesses all across the board,” he said. “[The owners of Highgrove Estate] are entitled to think whatever they want or believe, but I think it’s up to us to let people know, ‘Hey, if you want to go to a venue that supports LGBTQ couples, this is not one of them.'”
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