A couple fell in love with this Alabama wedding venue. Then they read the contract.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WIAT) – Emily Valdez had fallen in love: with her fiancé, of course, but also with a place of marriage. She had scoured the internet looking at photos and reading reviews. Finally, she had found it – a place that suited her family’s needs – a place where she would be proud to make a lifelong commitment to her partner. She scheduled and attended a tour, and she loved the venue even more.

Then Swann Lake Stables provided Valdez with a contract to sign. On its last page, just before the signature line, was a provision that Emily Valdez said she was shocked to read.

The owners of Swann Lake Stables, a wedding and events venue in Birmingham, do not allow same-sex weddings on their property as per contract. Valdez, who is in a heterosexual relationship, said she would not marry in a place that discriminates against others. Clients also shouldn’t know the policy in the last line of a contract that many may not even read, Valdez said.

Marjorie Jones, one of the site’s owners, said the policy was meant to “honor God”. Jones said the policy would be added to the site’s website. The policy, however, which may violate Birmingham’s non-discrimination ordinance, will remain in place, Jones said.

A special place

Emily Valdez said she probably browsed 50 websites before coming across Swann Lake Stables.

“It looked beautiful in the photos,” she said. “It was one of the few places I’ve found near Birmingham that has some kind of farm – just open ground.”

When she arrived for a tour, she felt her guide was warm and transparent.

“I was asking if different parts of the site were wheelchair accessible,” she said. “And they were really honest about that stuff.”

When the tour ended, Valdez and his partner thought they were done looking for a venue.

“I felt it was a special place,” she said.

“I was furious”

Two weeks ago, Emily Valdez contacted Swann Lake Stables to confirm a date for her wedding ceremony. The date she wanted was already booked, but she didn’t care. She took the only October date available for the venue.

“We loved the venue so much that we were willing to have a different date,” she said.

The venue sent the contract and Valdez prepared to sign it. Then she came to her last line.

“The owners of Swann Lake operate this venue based on sincere religious beliefs that marriage was intentionally created by God between a man and a woman and therefore same-sex marriages will not be permitted on this property,” reads the contract.

Valdez said she was furious.

“It shouldn’t be legal,” Valdez said. “It’s so unfair.”

Together, she and her partner decided they should find another place. Finding out about the Swann Lake policy was a logistical setback, Valdez said, and the policy itself broke his heart.

“We’ve been dreaming about it all year,” she said. “We built the wedding around the venue. So it’s frustrating to start over.

“It was God’s plan”

The no-same-sex marriage policy at Swann Lake Stables is not new.

After hearing about Emily Valdez’s frustration, Swann Lake Stables co-owner Marjorie Jones contacted Valdez to explain the site’s policy.

“I’m sorry you felt surprised at the end of your trip that someone didn’t allow same-sex marriages,” Jones told Valdez. “It’s something we’ve really fought for over the years we’ve been doing this.”

Jones acknowledged that it might be difficult to deal with politics after investing himself in planning a wedding on the spot. She said Swann Lake would add their “statement of faith” regarding the policy to the venue’s website. Jones said Swann Lake is doing its best to avoid situations where the policy will catch potential customers off guard.

“So we tell them before they come for the tour if it doesn’t look like it’s a man and a woman,” she said.

In those cases, Jones said she or another staff member contacts the couple directly.

“I call people up and say, you know, we believe marriage is between a man and a woman, that God made it that way,” Jones said. “That’s why we stay true to our faith. This is not a homosexual place.

44 years ago, Jones said that when she and her husband were dating, he took her to the property that would become Swann Lake Stables.

“The priority for my husband and I when we bought this place was that we had to be upfront about our faith,” she said. “It’s a place that we feel like God gave us.”

Jones also explained that her vision for marriage is tied to what she sees as a biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.”

“So if the world goes on, people are going to have to have babies,” Jones explained. “You need a man and a woman. Two women will have no children. Two men are not going to have a baby.

Valdez told Jones that due to previous health issues, she herself might not be able to have a child.

“We learned that what the doctors say is not necessarily true,” Jones replied. “There are doctors you could see who might encourage you to try it.”

Discrimination, Jones said, is not the goal of the site’s policy. When Valdez told Jones she thought the policy was discriminatory, Jones pushed back.

“You know, it sounds like that,” she said. “But it’s based on your faith. There are many places where same-sex couples can get married, but that’s not where we are. I am not one of those discriminatory people who will not rub shoulders with homosexuals or any form of diversity. I grew up in the sixties and my mother was a friend of Martin Luther King.

CBS 42 sent Swann Lake questions regarding its same-sex marriage policy. The owners answered every question except one: whether they thought they were discriminating against couples based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discrimination or devotion?

Emily Valdez doesn’t think Swann Lake’s religious views should trump the rights of same-sex couples to have access to public accommodations. Such discrimination in this case, she said, should be illegal, and nothing in her conversation with Jones made her change her mind about it.

Emily Valdez poses with her partner (Photo courtesy of Mary Catherine Fehr)

In 2017, the City of Birmingham became the first city in Alabama to pass a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

All people in Birmingham, regardless of sexual orientation, have “the right to the full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, benefits, facilities or privileges of any public resort, accommodation, gathering or entertainment facility”, indicates the order.

The only religious exception to the ordinance, according to its wording, applies only to entities that employ people of a particular religion to perform religious activities.

However, government bans on discrimination have run into obstacles in court in recent years. At the federal and state level, courts have limited the power of state officials to punish discriminatory behavior and practices, particularly in cases where religious interests are at stake.

CBS 42 reached out to city officials to find out if Swann Lake’s policy violated city ordinances and how many fines the city has issued under the new non-discrimination provisions. We haven’t had a response yet.

Seeking inclusion in the South

Ashley Peters can understand Emily Valdez’s anger and frustration. For years, Peters has helped same-sex couples navigate the “marriage industrial complex,” guiding them as they jump through hoops that can too often include venues and vendors who refuse to serve couples. of the same sex.

Peters, who started her wedding hair and makeup business in 2016, said it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ couples to find inclusive businesses to make their wedding day special.

That’s why she created a Facebook group called “Alabama Inclusive Sellers.” A modern day version “green book” for the LGBTQ+ community, the group has several goals, including providing a platform that can help couples of all kinds connect with inclusive places and vendors.

“The idea was that everyone in this band is already ticked off — they’re good,” Peters said of the band, which her husband calls The Good Book. “So they don’t have to worry about that. The most you should have to worry about is which flavor of cake, like any other couple.

Suppliers can also benefit from groups like Peters’ because they can connect with customers and other suppliers who share similar values. Mary Catherine Fehr, a prominent Birmingham wedding photographer, said she had never photographed a wedding at Swann Lake because of its discriminatory policy. Groups like Peter’s provide Fehr and his ilk with a connection to customers and information that may not have been readily available before.

Ashley Peters encourages couples trying to find inclusive venues and vendors to check out the Facebook group as well as other resources like the Also sea phone book.

Peters said that at the end of the day, while she thinks policies like those at Swann Lake Stables should be illegal, the law cannot demand warm, caring and inclusive service. But the power of profit, Peters said, is a powerful motivator.

“The best thing the public and the marriage community can do is not to deal with them,” Peters said. “Are they going to change? Probably not, but at least there is some form of justice.

Emily Valdez has already put Peters’ suggestion into practice. She said she wouldn’t have her ceremony there and wouldn’t recommend the venue to others.

“I feel called to love and radically support everyone,” Valdez told Marjorie Jones of her own spiritual beliefs. “Because everyone is valuable – just as they are, just for being human. Everyone should have equal access.

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