California winery refuses to host lesbian couple’s wedding ceremony

California winery refused the couple’s wedding as “same-sex marriage violates the owners' religious beliefs”.

Entrance to Viaggio Estate & Winery in Acampo, California

Dezanea Reyes and Alex Biddle, both 25, wanted to host their wedding at Viaggio Estate & Winery in Acampo, California, a rural venue 34 miles south of Sacramento. However, after getting in contact to make arrangements for the special day the couple were informed by Viaggio’s staff that the winery has never hosted a same-sex marriage and while they acknowledged that refusing to provide service based on sexual orientation is illegal, they told the couple they would prefer not to host their wedding. 

The events director, Angelina Hodson, told the couple through email that; “They understand that California statutory law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and they don’t like to think they would ever discriminate on that basis even if the law allowed them to do so. However, the owner also has a very strong personal religious belief regarding marriage, which is for marriage to be between heterosexual couples only.”

Reyes then posted screenshots of the email she received from Viaggio’s to her Facebook page in a post that has now gone viral making national headlines. 

After the post gained traction, many supporters took to the California winery’s Yelp page to leave negative reviews regarding the owners’ stance on the LGBT+ community and same-sex marriage.

Following the outpouring of support for the couple online, the winery’s owners Teri and Larry Lawrence, released an apologetic statement, claiming to have had a change of heart while also asserting their stance that they never intended their actions to be discriminatory. 

Lawerance apologised in a statement saying; “In recent communications with potential visitors, I tried to explore options for celebrations that would accommodate both my religious beliefs and the expectations of our community. I realize now that contrary to my intent, this was hurtful to the people involved. Our staff, our customers and our community have helped me see that I was wrong. Our policy has been changed, effective immediately.”

Lesbian couple who were refused marriage ceremony at California winery
Dezanea Reyes and her fiance Alex Biddle

Reyes disregarded the supposed “apology” telling the San Francisco Chronicle the winery owners’ backtracking was to try and elevate the large amounts of backlash they were facing. She said she believes that this was an act of discrimination and that “we [Reyes and her fiance] shouldn’t feel like it’s wrong for us to reach out to companies and ask for inquiries.” 

Federal policy director at UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute, Adam Romero, told the San Francisco Chronicle that under Californian state law, businesses that refuse service to same-sex couples are violating the law following the 1996 ruling by the state Supreme Court. Romero notes that this instance is not only about the refusal of business and the inconvenience caused to the couple, but indeed is also about; “the dignitary and psychological harms that discrimination exacts on gay people.”

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