FUQUAY-VARINA, NC – As if planning a wedding wasn’t hard enough during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Disheartening is the word I would use,” said McCae Henderson, an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina and budding groom to our sister station WTVD. “We haven’t had anything like this during the whole process or really in our lives.”
Henderson and his fiancé Ike Edwards got engaged on Valentine’s Day and recently started looking for wedding venues. Among the potential locations: Highgrove Estate in Fuquay-Varina, a sleek white house surrounded by lush forestry and away from any city lights. The couple completed an admission form on the property’s website that only allowed space for the names of the “bride” and “groom”.
“In the notes section, I just said we are a bridegroom and a bridegroom,” Edwards said. “It’s not that we can ignore that and then show up.”
The property’s response was that the venue did not host same-sex wedding ceremonies, but instead offered other alternative venues.
“We are. We are gay and we didn’t choose to be gay,” said Henderson. “The fact that we don’t have access to things that other people do is discrimination in my eyes. I think everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe to some extent. I don’t think you’re racist because your religion tells you to be racist. I don’t think you will become homophobic because your religion tells you to be homophobic. “
The owners and managers of Highgrove Estate declined to speak on camera but were very open to WTVD in off-camera conversations.
In an exclusive statement to WTVD, the owners wrote: “Highgrove has always welcomed salespeople, guests and employees of all kinds, and we do not discriminate against any people or group. We believe in the sanctity of marriage, as God says in the Bible is marriage between a man and a woman and we decide to honor Him about what the world decides what marriage should be. “
When asked about the couple’s frustration, the owners responded, “We were respectful and kind when we let them know we were not the best fit for them. When magazines and others decided not to do business with us because of this position, we respected we make this choice. That’s their right. We don’t judge them or take revenge for choosing not to respect our religious beliefs. The argument can just as easily be the same for us as if we felt like the others. We are not the ones who attack, slander, and threaten others because of their beliefs. “
Both federal and state civil rights protect against discrimination based on race, skin color, creed, religion, gender and national origin – but not against sexual orientation or gender identity. The US House of Representatives recently passed the equality bill that would add these conditions, but the future of the legislation is uncertain in the more conservative Senate.
The LGBTQ community has long been campaigning for these changes to protect against discrimination claims in the areas of education, access to credit, jury service, federal funding, housing and public accommodation, among other things.
“Discrimination in my eyes means marginalizing a group of people and treating them differently,” said Henderson.
In North Carolina in particular, state law only recently allowed municipalities to add these safeguards to their own non-discrimination ordinances. It is unlikely that the General Assembly will stir the pot since HB2.
“The freedom of the business owner needs to be protected, just like this couple’s freedom to marry needs to be protected,” Senator Jim Burgin of R-Harnett County told WTVD. “I just feel like we have too many laws and rules and the government is too involved in our lives. I think we have to be very careful as legislators so we don’t go overboard with the whole idea.” of personal religious freedoms and opportunities to live a life free from government encumbrance. “
According to Highgrove, at least one couple has already filed for their contract to be terminated, which has been recognized by the owners. There was also at least one threat to the company that the owners shared with the Fuquay-Varina Police Department.
“The backlash is sad, it was aggressive, hateful and designed to cause fear,” argued the owners. “What they ask is that we believe just like them and they leave us alone. We stand by our belief in the sanctity of marriage and that is not going to change. We want (McCae Henderson and Ike Edwards) that we do that find the very best venue and that their special day is wonderful. “
Henderson and Edwards, meanwhile, said they were “moved” by a lot of support.
“I think the reason we’re doing this is because we need to press the needle to eliminate discrimination across the board in private companies,” added Henderson. “They have the right to think what 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 isn’t one of them them.'”
However, the couple regretted the reported threat and condemned any physical or verbal attack on the venue. They are also determined to leave this chapter behind and look forward to their big celebration.
“That won’t take our joy away.”
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