Human Rights – Are there exceptions to the rule?

March 9, 2015

South Africa was the first country in Africa to prohibit unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation- an amazing feat when you consider that 38 of Africa’s 55 states criminalise homosexuality.

In fact, South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions, along with other legislation that outlaws unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation, and legalises same-sex marriages. It’s true, South Africa has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to protecting human rights, but in some ways, our society still has a long way to go.

The team at Oakfield Farm, a popular and historic wedding venue near Johannesburg, have their hands full defending their latest decision to turn down a same-sex couple. This is the second time that the venue has come under fire for its “anti-gay” stance, refusing to host a couple because it “doesn’t do gay weddings”.

Having decided to view the venue for the special occasion, Sean Hydes and Shawn Swiegers were met with a rather flustered manageress who apparently hadn’t anticipated dealing with two grooms. She then suggested that the couple rather meet with the owner, Matthew Stubbs as he “likes to do those” himself.

Stubbs told the confused couple that while he doesn’t mind gay people (and even employs them); he was unable to host their wedding as it went against his religious beliefs. The farm claims to treat all people of all colours, cultures, religions and genders with respect and without discrimination- just please don’t ask them to marry you.

So why not be upfront about the policy? Perhaps Oakfield should post it as a disclaimer on their website- for straight couples only? They could save themselves and future couples a bit of embarrassment.

Of course, Oakfield Farm isn’t the first venue to have an anti-gay policy and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. A lesbian couple was left humiliated by a Western Cape wedding venue in much the same way. After Leanne Brown-Waterson and her partner Christelle were welcomed by the manager at Kilcairn, they were eagerly awaiting the confirmed wedding date of 17 January 2015. Unfortunately, Kilcairn’s promises of “beautiful scenery and a serene atmosphere” were only available to heterosexual people, and the couple received an email 10 days later informing them that their nuptials were no longer welcome.

The problem is that these venues, who claim to treat everyone with respect regardless of culture, creed or gender, are failing to do just that. One thing is clear- if you can afford to turn away a couple based only on their sexual orientation then business must really be booming.

Oakfield Farm is currently under investigation by the Commission for Gender Equality for sexual discrimination after a complaint was filed against it for the first time last year.The chief executive of the South African Human Rights Commission, Kayum Ahmed, claimed that Oakfield could not discriminate against gay and lesbian people because this is a violation of the Constitution and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

Religious beliefs aside, if you’re going to take a stance against gay marriage, at least be prepared to handle your guests in a way that is professional and considerate. After all, these couples went to view a venue, which over the phone, seemed happy to have them until they arrived in person.

Let’s not forget, the essence of a marriage is two people promising to love and honour each other for the rest of their lives. Does it really matter if there are two grooms or two brides on the cake instead of one?  Send us your thoughts.

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