Home South African Constitution above religious conviction, says SAHRC in anti-gay venue case

Constitution above religious conviction, says SAHRC in anti-gay venue case

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The Constitution makes it clear that religious freedom must yield to constitutional prescript – SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)

The owners of Beloftebos refused to host Sasha-Lee Heekes and fiancée Megan Watling, who wanted to tie the knot. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA) Archives

CAPE TOWN – The Constitution makes it clear that religious freedom must yield to constitutional prescript, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said in an affidavit to the Equality Court in the matter involving a wedding venue’s refusal to host a lesbian couple.

In filing the papers recently, SAHRC commissioner Andre Gaum said the litigation against Stanford farm Beloftebos was by no means to suggest that the owners Coia and Andries de Villiers may not believe what they do.

Guam said an assertion by Beloftebos that the commission is failing to understand their beliefs is “fallacious”.

“On the plain wording of the Constitution, persons belonging to religious communities may not be denied the right to practise their religion, provided that they do not exercise this right in a manner that is inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights. The Constitution therefore makes it clear that religious freedom must yield to constitutional prescript.

“Yet, the Beloftebos respondents seek to elevate their religious rights so as to take precedence over the fundamental rights and value of equality and dignity,” Guam’s affidavit read.

Beloftebos’ has argued that their refusal to host Sasha-Lee Heekes and fiancée Megan Watling in January this year, and other same-sex couples, is because of their deeply held religious convictions.

They say they are not unfairly discriminating against anyone for who they love, but that they should be allowed to differentiate between the events and activities that they are willing to facilitate on their property.

The SAHRC brought the application against Beloftebos in the Equality Court, sitting in the Western Cape High Court, as they argue the matter will prevent other businesses from refusing services to same-sex couples.

The commission is seeking a declaratory, interdictory and directory relief against Beloftebos wherein they want, among others, to restrain Beloftebos from applying their policy of not allowing wedding services for same-sex couples to wed at the venue.

The Beloftebos owners have brought a counter-application for declaratory and directory relief.

Guam continued in his affidavit that it can’t be argued that Beloftebos hosts weddings as a function of their religious rights, as they do not limit their offering to members of their own faith.

“The Beloftebos respondents have themselves indicated that they offer wedding services to couples of various beliefs (both religious and non-religious), provided that the wedding event does not conflict with what they consider to be acceptable according to their own religion. There is no faith-based homogeneity among clients or target market.

“Indeed, the clients ‘need not even’ acknowledge God … or share in any of the Beloftebos respondents’ beliefs. Any religious significance that their clients attach to their own wedding ceremonies is purely incidental,” Gaum said.

Requests for comment to Beloftebos went unanswered on Sunday.