The battle for legalisation of same-sex marriage in Virginia has been long and fraught with obstacles, yet the state’s LGBT+ community is still at risk of discrimination.
Paula Fries and Katie Brown, a lesbian couple based in Charlottesville, discovered this recently when a videographer refused to film their wedding ceremony because they were a same-sex couple.
Fries and Brown had been in contact with Gardenia Weddings for weeks before owners Brett and Alex Sandridge formally refused to work with them; the couple had mentioned in earlier correspondence that it would be a same-sex wedding, yet no objections were initially made.
Gardenia Weddings even sent a contract and an invoice for $625.00, indicating that they were happy to provide the service.
In an interview given to local news station CBS19, Fries and Brown said that, at this they had stopped communication with other videographers:
It really felt like we had the rug pulled from under us.
Soon after receiving the invoice, they received a follow-up email from Sandridge – which Fries later shared on Facebook - claiming that they wouldn’t be filming the wedding because they “wanted to stay true to their beliefs.”
The email states that Sandridge had consulted with his wife, and that they had come to a joint decision that they would “not be the best match to film your wedding.”
We are really just wanting to stay true to our beliefs and hope that you can respect that.
I understand how this is not a great thing to hear after being excited about finding someone to film your wedding.
The rejection was polite, but the topic of discrimination based on religious beliefs is still incendiary in America; last month, a Colorado baker won his case after a same-sex couple sued him for refusing to bake their wedding cake.
However, the ruling was narrow and does not necessarily act as a precedent for other cases of the same nature.
Marcia Coyle, of National Law Journal, later explained the implications of the ruling in simple terms:
It's important to know what the court didn't do here.
It didn't give a green light to business owners to discriminate on the basis of religion against members of the gay community or other protected individuals.
Fries’ own Facebook post soon went viral, sparking an avalanche of negative reviews which quickly led to Gardenia Weddings deactivating its Facebook page.
Prior to this deactivation, negative reviews left by supporters of the couple were being meticulously removed by its owners.
Speaking to CBS19, the couple claimed to have been overwhelmed by the support which flooded in not only from friends and family, but also from strangers moved by their story. They also revealed that other videographers had offered to film the ceremony free of charge.
This doesn’t negate the fact that social obstructions are continuously working to negate the apparent ‘equality’ of same-sex couples. Discrimination disguised as religious belief is the most common obstacle, leading Fries to ask:
For those who say religion is the reason why they discriminate [against] and oppress a certain subset of people: Is that really a good belief system to begin with?