Wedding Venue Owner Apologizes After Turning Away Mixed-Race Couple, Citing 'Religious Beliefs'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 4, 2019

Those feeling secure in the idea that proposed special rights for Christians to sidestep anti-discrimination laws will harm only LGBTQ people might want to reconsider that (to them) comforting notion in the wake of a telling incident in which the owner of a wedding venue cited the Bible in turning away a heterosexual couple because the groom was African American, whereas the bride was white.

The story is very possibly predictive as to what could happen if the federal government under Donald Trump and Mike Pence succeeds in supplanting decades of progress with "religious freedom" laws that are designed to provide the "freedom" of discrimination to those operating out of religious bias - or any bias, for that matter, that can be justified as arising from "deeply held" beliefs.

But the story now also has a coda that suggests the possibility that even dyed-in-the-wool people of faith who point to the Bible for justification when it comes to denying the very biblical tradition of hospitality can, and do, just their views... sometimes because of what the Bible itself contains, or does not contain.

As Deep South Voice reported, the incident was rooted in the denial that Boone's Camp Event Hall in Mississippi dealt to a young couple who had sought to celebrate their wedding there.

Deep South Voice recalls that the wedding preparations had already been ongoing for a week when the venue suddenly, and with little explanation, changed its tune and sent a message to the couple saying that their wedding would not be welcome there after all due to the "beliefs" of the owners.

No further explanation was given despite attempts to find out what the problem was - not, that is, until the groom's sister, LaKambria Welch, took it upon herself to travel to Boone's Camp Event Hall and ask to hear the owner's reasons.

There - armed with her phone, which she used to video the meeting - Welch had a polite exchange with a woman who told her, "First of all, we don't do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race—I mean, our Christian belief."

Deep South Voice said that the woman is thought to be Boone's Camp Event Hall owner Donna Russell.

The video documents what the women said to one another:

WELCH: "So, what in the Bible tells you that... ?"

THE WOMAN: "Well, I don't want to argue my faith."

The woman went on to say, "We just don't participate," and, "We just choose not to."

But as Deep South Voice and the Washington Post reported, after Welch posted the video to Twitter, an uproar ensued.

Then a minor miracle: The owner of the venue seemingly issued an apology and said that she had erroneously believed all her life that the Bible condemned marriages between people of different skin colors.

The apology, purportedly from the venue's owner, appeared at Facebook and said that her husband asked just where in the Bible it was written that people of different skin tones should not be allowed to wed. After consulting the Bible, and her pastor, the apology's author said, she came away realizing she had been mistaken about the issue.

The text of the apology said that it had long been the author's supposition that the Bible forbids such unions, and added, "I know there are verses whom we claim to support this, but to my finding, it is not supported at all!"

The apology went on to say, "If I have learned anything from this it would be to know what you're talking about before you open your mouth!"

The author tenders "sincerest apologies" for the denial of the wedding.

The venue's Facebook page was later taken down.

Given that the Gospels never cite Jesus as condemning same-sex relationships, and even the famed, and oft-cited, passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus is challenged by scholars as being incorrect - with the famous line about men having sex with other men being an "abomination" being a mistranslation (the original word actually meant "taboo," scholars say, meaning that ancient Jews were forbidden, probably as a way to distinguish that faith from other ancient belief systems, some of which included ritual sex) - it might one day become a tenet of faith among evangelicals, as it is among LGBTQ Christian believers, that a higher power created people to be exactly who they are. As Psalms 139: 13 - 14 has it:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (New International Version)

A more cynical interpretation might be that since Mississippi's "religious freedom" law, like the Bible, does not mention race when it comes to these matters, the apology was a way of dancing around the fallout.

Social media had exploded with posts condemning the venue's denial, warning that what was initially proposed as a means of allowing businesses an out when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ prospective customers could all too easily be reworked or misapplied when it comes to matters of racial bias or other forms of prejudice.

Welch herself rejected the notion that the owner of the venue could have spent her entire life believing the Bible bans marriage between people whose skin contains different levels of the pigment melanin. Welch told the Post, "I am 24 and have been brought up my entire life in a Christian Family; my grandad being a reverend."

Added Welch, "If I know that the Bible doesn't say anything about biracial marriages, she knows too."

As for the city of Booneville, where the wedding venue is located, it hastened to post assurances about its commitment to non-discrimination:

The Washington Post offered a thumbnail on Mississippi's so-called "religious freedom" law:

In 2016, Mississippi passed the first law of its kind that protects "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" about same-sex marriages, extramarital sex and people who identify as transgender. The law, however, does not mention race.

As to whether the venue's Road to Damascus moment includes same-sex couples, there's no reason to think that it does. Boone's Camp Event Hall has reportedly declined to host at least one wedding in which both celebrants were women.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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