A Mississippi town on Monday disavowed a local business that apparently refused to allow a couple to use its venue for their wedding because the man was black and the woman was white.
“The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status,” the City of Booneville wrote on its Facebook page.
‘We Don’t Do Gay Weddings or Mixed Race’
Over the Labor Day Weekend, Deep South Voice reported on a video posted to Facebook by Booneville resident LaKambria Welch. In it, she confronts a woman who appears to be one of the owners of Boone’s Camp Event Hall. Welch told DSV on Sunday that she confronted the woman after the business cancelled her brother’s planned wedding—and that she wanted to know why.
“First of all, we don’t do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race—I mean, our Christian belief,” the woman in the video tells Welch.
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s website lists Donna and David Russell as the owner of Boone’s Camp Event Hall, LLC.
Another woman, Katelynn Springsteen, told DSV that Boone’s Camp told her it would not host a wedding for her best friend, who is a lesbian, because of their religious beliefs. Springsteen provided screenshots of messages she exchanged with the business.
“(T)he City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies,” the City’s Sept. 2 statement concludes.
Several Booneville residents responded, thanking the town’s leaders for speaking out. But Booneville resident Laverta Taylor wanted to know what action the town planned to take.
“So now that we know that the City of Booneville has an operating business that discriminates against bi-racial couples and homosexuals…..what are we going to do about it?,” she wrote in a comment on Facebook.
Booneville House Representative Supported Anti-Gay ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law
Another resident wanted to know where House Rep. William Tracy Arnold, who represents the area in the lower chamber of the Mississippi Legislature, stands.
In 2016, Arnold co-sponsored and voted for House Bill 1523, the so-called “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people on the basis of their religious beliefs about marriage or gender. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed HB 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, though opponents warned at the time that some might try to use it to justify discrimination based on race.
In 2014, Arnold voted for Senate Bill 2681, the “Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” 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, with a yea from Arnold, in 2014, before passing the more specific HB 1523.
Both bills came in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming gay marriage rights. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages even in states where they were legal; Mississippi passed SB 2681 the following spring. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all statewide bans, including the one in Mississippi; the Mississippi Legislature passed HB 1523 that spring.
At the same time HB 1523 was making its way through the courts, a federal judge struck down Mississippi’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples.
Read DSV’s report on the Boone’s Camp Event Hall story and see the video of Welch’s encounter with the venue’s owner here.