By Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
Following the opening of the legal case against them by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the owners of Beloftebos yesterday filed their opposing papers with the Cape High Court (Equality Court).
In their papers, the owners of the wedding venue near Stanford, Hermanus, deny that their venue policy amounts to unfair discrimination against LGBT+ people. Importantly, they are also asking the Equality Court to find that the SAHRC unfairly discriminated against them on grounds of conscience, religion and belief, and that the commission is biased and prejudiced in its treatment of them and their belief system.
The SAHRC’s case against Beloftebos is based on an incident that took place in 2017, when Beloftebos declined – on grounds of their biblical conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman – to host, participate in and help to celebrate a same-sex wedding at the venue.
Even though the couple subsequently married at another venue in the area and now live in the USA, the SAHRC – acting on behalf of various other complainants – have decided three years later to institute legal proceedings against Beloftebos. In their application, the SAHRC is effectively asking the court to declare that Beloftebos’ venue policy is unconstitutional, and to force them to host same-sex weddings at their venue.
Significantly, the reason the owners decided to operate a wedding venue in the first place was as a consequence of their deep religious convictions regarding the meaning and purpose of marriage. For them, marriage is a religious rite (sacrament) — a covenant relationship between a man and a woman instituted by God Himself and which, in the Christian faith, reflects the relationship between Jesus Christ (the Bridegroom) and His Church (the Bride).
For this reason, they would equally decline to host any other event that conflicts with their Biblical faith and beliefs. For example, they would not allow a Halloween party, a séance or fortune-telling activities at their venue, nor would they host a polygamous marriage celebration.
The owners of Beloftebos have stated clearly that “all people, whatever their sexual orientation, are always welcome and will be served at our venue. We draw no distinction between people as far as serving them, catering for them or allowing them to use ‘our’ facilities is concerned. This is one hundred per cent in line with what Jesus requires of us. However, when we are approached to assist in something which we sincerely believe is not in line with Jesus’s teaching we cannot, for the reasons already set out, in good conscience comply. Our decisions have absolutely nothing to do with a person’s race, gender, sexual choices, economic standing or any other personal factor but are purely based upon our desire to do what is right before God in accordance with our beliefs.”
According to Michael Swain executive director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA): “The Christian Scriptures and view that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman is one of the most ancient teachings and has been observed and celebrated for nearly 2 000 years. It has been practised as a religious sacrament long before it was regulated by any law. Our South African legal system did not create marriage, it simply recognised and regulated an institution which predated the very existence of our nation.”
He further says: “This case will have far-reaching implications. If the court decides against them, the owners of Beloftebos will be forced to participate in and celebrate events that violate their conscience, religion and belief or alternatively be forced to close their venue and cease to offer their services. However, the outcome of this case will equally affect every goods and service provider in South Africa, who will then be able to be forced to do work or perform services which they may fundamentally disagree with.
“Ultimately, this case is about freedom – the freedom for all of us to choose to live our lives in a way that is consistent with our beliefs. It is thus possible to support same-sex marriage and at the same time to stand with Beloftebos, because if the court can force them to perform work that goes against their conscience, religion and belief, it can force anyone to do so.”