Hounded for Fidelity to Christian Marriage

Beloftebos is a beautiful events and wedding venue nestling amongst gracious oak trees and billed as a unique setting for memorable occasions. Loosely translated, the word means “Forest of Promises,” – conjuring up an image perfectly fitting for unforgettable marriage ceremonies.

Located near Hermanus in the Western Cape, this tranquil and luscious location has been thrust into the centre of an acrimonious dispute around same-sex “marriage…”

How Did This All Start?

Back in 2017, the owners of Beloftebos denied a female same-sex couple the usage of their premises for a “wedding” ceremony. The venue proprietors considered that hosting such an event would compromise their belief system and violate their consciences. In a 4th August 2017 statement released to the media, the owners spelled out the venue’s position:

“We, the owners of Beloftebos, are Christians who seek to honour and obey God in everything we do, including the way in which we operate our business (the wedding venue). While the venue is available to people of all races, our Biblical conviction is that marriage is reserved for a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. This is a deeply held belief (not only for us, but for the vast majority of Christians around the world for over 2000 years) and is a foundational part of our faith as Christians.

For us, to host (and thereby enable, or celebrate) a same-sex “marriage”, would be to dishonour and disobey God – potentially with eternal consequences. This is too great a cost and if forced to compromise on our faith, we would have to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

The statement also affirms that the owners understand and accept that the country’s Constitution makes provision for certain choices. They simply request that

“our freedom of choice (to believe – and live our lives according to – the Bible) be respected also. Our Constitution does not require everyone to believe the same, and does not punish people for holding divergent beliefs and opinions.”

Their media statement further notes that the Constitution

specifically guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and belief as a fundamental human right (s 15). As such, it is not correct that our decision (based upon our religious convictions and beliefs) not to host same-sex wedding ceremonies automatically amounts to unfair discrimination or is illegal. To date, no South African court has found this to be the case.”1

That’s it – a straight-forward declaration about marriage as it has been known and understood since time immemorial… Hardly rocket science! However, this position immediately resulted in threats, intimidation, hate speech and more. Indeed, those with such a penchant for “tolerance” manifested every kind of intolerance towards the venue’s owners.  The couple seeking to use the venue found alternative arrangements and moved to the USA. The owners hoped that this marked the end of the sorry saga!

The Case Heads to the Courts

Unfortunately, the problem reappeared in early 2020. Thus, The Cape Times (3 March 2020) in an article titled “SAHRC sets out Equality Court case against ‘no same-sex’ wedding venue Beloftebos” reported that Sasha-Lee Heekes and Megan Watling had sought to make use of the wedding venue in 2021, “but the owners refused, saying Christianity did not allow same sex marriage.”2

Beloftebos was subject to a second round of accusations replete with the tried, tested and worn-out accusations of “bigotry” and “hatred.” An in-depth article in The South African says it all, “Beloftebos: Wedding venue in legal trouble for rejecting same-sex couple.” The article reveals that the offended couple “have lodged a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC),” and has “vowed to pursue legal action in defence of the LGBTIQ+ community as a whole.”3 

For their part, a 2nd February press release of the Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) group claims that “The owners do believe however – based on the constitutional right to religious freedom and belief – that they should be allowed to differentiate between the events and activities that they are willing to facilitate on their property.  For example, because of their religious beliefs, they would also decline to host a Halloween party, regardless of who requested it.”4

Human Rights Commission Weighs In

A Weekend Argus article of 25 January titled “Beloftebos wedding venue taken to court for refusing same sex couple,” reports that “The Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Cape Town is in the process of completing papers for the High Court and the Equality Court in the case involving Beloftebos wedding venue and a same-sex couple.” Andre Gaum, an HRC commissioner, revealing his hand, “told Weekend Argus it was its view that Beloftebos’ conduct was ‘unconstitutional.’” Seeking the moral high ground, Gaum further opined, “One cannot, on the basis of your religious beliefs, discriminate against the sexual orientation of others. It is disappointing that in this day and age we are still faced with this.”5

One can only wonder who is really guilty of “discrimination” as Beloftebos has been targeted as a venue to be avoided, while simultaneously the owners are being pursued through the courts. Their position is a relatively liberal one since it does not contest but only refuses to sanction that which God does not abide. It is a question of conscience!

The legal action is now set with one additional detail. As reported in The Argus (5 March 2020), “Same-sex couple battling Beloftebos Wedding Venue slam ‘opportunistic’ SAHRC,” this court case also includes the case of the initial same-sex couple – almost three years after that couple’s request was declined. The article explains that “The action in the Equality Court is based on two cases. The first is a 2017 case similar to that of Heekes and Watlings in which the Beloftebos Wedding Venue refused to host the wedding of Alexandra Thorne and Alex Lu who have since left South Africa. Thorne and Lu alongside several members of the public then lodged a complaint with the SAHRC which has now been combined with the most recent incident.”6

Owners Rise to the Challenge – Refuse to be Cowed

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), in a strongly-worded press release (18 May 2020), suggested that the whole issue revolved around “freedom.”

“Following the opening of the legal case against them by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the owners of Beloftebos today 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.”7 (emphasis ours)

What is at stake is the attempt to have the Court declare the venue’s wedding policy “unconstitutional” and consequently force it to host same-sex “weddings.”

The FOR-SA statement further reveals the measure of religiosity underpinning the venue’s convictions on 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.”8 (emphasis ours)

Could anything be clearer – is there not something anti-Christian in this – a veritable persecution? Is it not eerily similar to cases witnessed overseas, employing familiar high-handed and bullying tactics?

Far-reaching implications

According to Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA):

“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 services provider in South Africa, who will then be able to be forced to do work or perform services which they may fundamentally disagree with.”9

 The statement sums up the essence of what is at stake here – the fundamental rights which characterise decent, orderly and God-fearing societies. We make Swain’s conclusion our own:

“If the Court can force them to perform work that goes against their conscience, religion and belief, it can force anyone to do so.”10And furthermore, in Swain’s opinion, the Beloftebos case will raise interesting (and important) questions as to “whether the fundamental right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion in fact belongs to every citizen as promised by s15 of the Constitution – or [whether it] is rather an eloquent, but hollow promise.”

– By Bernard Tuffin

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