LaKambria Welch claims her brother and his fiancée had been in contact with the owner of Boone’s Camp Event Hall making wedding arrangements for about a week when, suddenly, the owner of the Booneville, Miss., business sent them a message: They would not be allowed to get married at the venue after all “because of (the venue’s) beliefs.”
When Welch learned that her brother, who is black, would not be allowed to rent Boone’s Camp to marry his fiancée, who is a white woman, she said she drove to the venue herself and asked why. There, she filmed what she says is an encounter with a woman who works for Boone’s Camp (video below).
‘Because of Our Christian Race—I Mean, Our Christian Belief’
“First of all, we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race—I mean, our Christian belief,” the woman, believed to be owner Donna Russell, tells Welch in the video.
“Okay, we’re Christians as well,” Welch replies.
“Yes ma’am,” the woman says.
“So, what in the Bible tells you that—?,” Welch beings to ask, before getting cut off by the apparent Boone’s camp employee.
“Well, I don’t want to argue my faith,” the woman says.
“No, that’s fine,” Welch replies.
“We just don’t participate,” the woman says.
“Okay,” Welch responds.
“We just choose not to,” the woman continues.
“Okay. So that’s your Christian belief, right?,” Welch asks.
Welch says she believes the venue found out her brother and his fiancée, whose names she has not provided to DSV, through Facebook.
“The owner took a look at my brother’s fiancée’s page and wrote her back to say they won’t be able to get married there because of her beliefs,” Welch told DSV. “He told my mom and she contacted the owner through messenger to only get a ‘seen’ with no reply. That’s when I took it upon myself to go get clarification on her beliefs.”
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s website lists Donna and David Russell as the owner of Boone’s Camp Event Hall, LLC. Filings also show they own Boone’s Camp Mini Storage, LLC.
‘Due to Our Christian Faith, We Would Not Be Able to Accommodate You’
Another woman, Katelynn Springsteen, also claims the venue refused to offer its services to a gay couple last year. She provided DSV a screenshot of Facebook messages she says she exchanged with the venue in September 2018.
“I was trying to find my best friend, who is lesbian, a wedding venue. I was immediately shot down when I was asked if they were okay with a gay wedding,” Springsteen said.
In the screenshot, a page identified as “Boone’s Camp Event Hall” (Boone’s Camp took their Facebook page down this weekend after Welch posted the video), sends Springsteen a list of prices for its wedding services in a message dated September 2018.
“Are you okay with it being a gay marriage ceremony?” Springsteen asks.
“Thanks for checking with us Katelynn, but due to our Christian faith, we would not be able to accommodate you.”
Deep South Voice reached out to Boone’s Camp. A man who answered the phone did not identify himself, saying only that they had “no comment.” He hung up before DSV could ask any further questions. He did not confirm nor deny that the video showed a Boone’s Camp employee, nor that the venue had such a policy.
After DSV first published this story on Sunday, the City of Booneville and the Booneville Main Street Association both released statements.
“(T)he City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies,” the City’s statement reads.
Owner Apologizes for Biblical ‘Ignorance’: ‘It’s Not There!’
On Tuesday, The Washington Post followed DSV’s reporting up with a story of their own, noting that the owners of Boone’s Camp apparently posted an apology to their business’ Facebook page sometime after this story posted on Sunday, but then took their page down again their page down. A Facebook user who caught the post before it went down shared screenshots.
“As a child growing up, our racial boundaries that were unstated were of staying in your own race,” wrote the author, who is presumably Donna Russell. “This was never spoken, but it was an understood subject.”
After the incident, she wrote, her husband, presumably David Russell, asked her to show him where the Bible forbids interracial relationships.
“I stood for a minute and began to think about the history of my learning this and where it came from,” she wrote. “I was unable to recall instances where the Bible was used given a verse that would support my decision.”
After studying Saturday and Sunday, and talking to her pastor on Sunday she wrote, she “came to the conclusion” that “what I had thought to be supported by the Bible was incorrect!”
“I have, for many years, stood firm on my Christian faith not knowing that biracial relationships were NEVER mentioned in the Bible! I know there are verses whom we claim support this, but to my finding it is not supported at all!”
She encouraged others who shared that false belief to study the Bible for themselves so they can find, just as she did, that “IT’S NOT THERE!”
“If marriage is between a husband and a wife whom are equally yoked, who am I to say it is wrong because God does not condemn that relationship,” she wrote. “To all of those offended, hurt, or (who) felt condemn(ed) by my statement, I truly apologize to you for my ignorance in not knowing about this. My intent was never about racism, but to stand firm in what I ‘assumed’ was right concerning marriage. When the Bible tells us to ‘study to show ourselves,’ I have failed to do that on this subject.”
Mississippi’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws
In 2016, the Mississippi Legislature passed a “religious freedom” law allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people on the basis of their religious beliefs about marriage or gender. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed that bill, House Bill 1523, into law.
After being initially struck down in federal court, the conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to stand. The U.S. Supreme Court did not take the case.
The text of HB 1523 says that “the state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization wholly or partially on the basis that such organization … Solemnizes or declines to solemnize any marriage, or provides or declines to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act…”
Section 2 of HB 1523 defines those beliefs as: “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”
The law does not mention race.
One of the Mississippi House Representatives who supported HB 1523, Rep. Robert Foster (R-DeSoto County) told the Jackson Free Press in a January interview that he still supports the law and would tell a gay couple who was turned down by a wedding venue to find someone else to do business with.
“Would you say that to an interracial couple?” the Jackson Free Press asked Foster.
“I think that’s completely different situation. I just do, to me. It is not an issue, I think. I think race is completely different than getting somebody involved in a religious ceremony that goes against their core belief,” he replied.
“There are people who say they oppose interracial marriages on the basis of religious beliefs, though,” the Jackson Free Press pushed back. “Historically, Christians in the South believed God ‘made the races separate.'”
“Honestly, I just don’t see that in my views as a Christian. I haven’t gotten that from the Bible,” Foster responded.
He was a Republican candidate for governor at the time, but came in third place in the August primary.
The Legislature passed HB 1523 after passing a similar law, named the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ or Senate Bill 2681,” which made it legal for individuals and businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people if they cited a religious belief. The Legislature passed that law in 2014, before passing HB 1523, which makes it more explicit that Mississippi protects the right of businesses to discriminate against LGBT people so long as they cite a religious belief.
Mississippi House Rep. William Tracy Arnold, who represents Booneville in the Legislature, voted for SB 2681 and co-sponsored HB 1523.
Earlier this year, Deep South Voice reported on a Texas wedding venue that refused to serve a gay couple there. The venue told the couple that the wedding would violate God’s “plan and design for marriage.”
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who also serves as the president of the Mississippi Senate, presided over and pushed for the passage of both SB 2781 and HB 1523. He is now the Republican nominee to become Mississippi’s next governor.