A Raymore same-sex couple will not be able to host their wedding next year at the Heritage Ranch, a Sedalia event venue, as they had hoped, as the owners do not support same-sex marriage.
Rachel Cathey had been emailing Heritage Ranch owner Sara Howell for a few weeks before taking a visit to the venue Sunday with her mom and her fiance, Beverly Vaughn.
“When we got down there we got out of the car, my mom was there, and Beverly and I were holding hands like normal couples do walking around the ranch,” Cathey said. “Sara pulls up after we do, as we look at each other holding hands, talking about it.
“(The barn) is stunning, it’s so pretty — (Vaughn and I) looked at each other and said ‘this is it, this is where we’re going to get married.’ We started talking about a place for the bride to get ready. Sara said ‘we have a bridal suite.’ I said we have two brides.”
Howell then told the two brides-to-be the Heritage Ranch does not permit same-sex weddings at the venue.
“Before she could even finish I asked why and she said ‘because we’re Christian and we don’t,’” Cathey said. “I didn’t let her finish, told her she had answered all our questions and turned around and walked out.”
Howell owns the business with her husband, Josh. He explained to the Democrat why same-sex marriages don’t take place at Heritage Ranch.
“It is a violation of our religious beliefs. We would have to violate our conscience to allow that to occur here,” Josh Howell said. “We feel we would be dishonoring God, who we serve and He was the one who gave us this business and it is only right we serve him and honor him with it. It would be a sin for us to allow that, so we could not in good conscience do that.”
Josh Howell said the couple has turned away one other couple due to their Christian beliefs. That same-sex couple had read the Heritage Ranch website, which makes references to God and the Christian faith, and realized they may not be able to host a wedding there. Josh said that particular couple approached him and his wife with that in mind, and once the Howells said they could not host the wedding, he said the couple understood.
The situation was posted Monday in a post on PROMOonline.org. Josh and Sara have read the post, and he wanted to point out something Cathey wrote.
“It’s important to note, one of them said they stopped listening once my wife said she was Christian,” he said. “If they had listened, they’d see it’s not a personal matter, it’s a matter of religious conviction and personal belief.”
According to the website, “PROMO is Missouri’s statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality through legislative action, electoral politics, grassroots organizing, and community education.”
The Howells have since received countless hate messages via phone and social media regarding their beliefs and Sunday’s situation.
“We’ve had several hateful messages over the phone and social media since the article was published and we found it very hypocritical they criticized us for being hateful and then follow that up with hateful comments toward us,” Josh Howell said.
While Cathey and Vaughn aren’t happy about the Howells’ decision to not host their wedding, Cathey said she isn’t upset simply because the couple is Christian.
“It’s not that I am upset at (Sara’s) views. She has the right to her own opinion, that’s fine, but she doesn’t need to let it rain on someone else’s opinion because she doesn’t like it,” Cathey said. “How would us getting married there — or any other same-sex couple or any couple other than what’s she used to — how would it matter to her and change her life and affect her if we got married at the venue?”
Cathey said she and Vaughn haven’t encountered any similar situations while planning their wedding. PROMO is lobbying to make sure that continues.
“We are working to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, known as MONA,” said PROMO Interim Director Steph Perkins. “It would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories to the Human Rights Statute that protects against discrimination in employment, housing, access to public services. Businesses that are open to the public — provide public accommodation — currently cannot deny service based on race, religion (and national origin, ancestry, gender or age). With MONA that would include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Twenty-eight states have nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT citizens, and Cathey said she agrees Missouri should be added to the list. Perkins noted the Howells cited religious reasons, but that business owners currently cannot claim religious exemption to refuse service to someone of another race or gender.
“MONA already has religious exemption for religious institutions; adding sexual orientation would not change that,” Perkins said. “However, private businesses do have to serve the public in general and so religious exemptions don’t protect private businesses. Even though religion is incredibly important and a core value for many, and many LGBT people, it cannot be used for a reason to discriminate or deny someone a public service.”
However, Josh Howell said their event venue is private property.
“Another thing the article incorrectly noted is that this is a public access venue. It’s on private property, it’s privately run and privately owned,” he said.
Cathey said she hadn’t been lobbying for MONA before, but now she wants to help the cause.
“I absolutely (think it should be passed) because if nobody stands up for it, who knows who’s going to get fired because of a same-sex relationship. I didn’t know in the State of Missouri you can get fired for that, lose your house for that just based on gender identity and sexual orientation,” she said. “That is where the story is becoming more and more heartfelt to me.
“At first I just wanted to let people in the LGBT community know, don’t go here if you’re trying to get married. Now I need to stand up for us because somebody has to. Since I’ve already said something I might as well stand up for it.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.