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N. Carolina wedding venue denies lesbian couple, citing 'Christian values'

An employee told the brides-to-be that the Winston-Salem event space does “not host same sex marriage ceremonies.”

The newly engaged couple Kasey Mayfield and Brianna May did not expect to ignite an online backlash when they shared on Facebook a recent email exchange that Mayfield had with an employee at a North Carolina wedding venue.

In the exchange, Mayfield mentions potential wedding dates, the estimated number of guests and the “other bride.” In response, the venue informed her that The Warehouse on Ivy in Winston-Salem does “not host same sex marriage ceremonies.”

Image: Brianna May and Kasey Mayfield
Brianna May, left, and Kasey Mayfield shortly after their engagement.Chelsea Clayton

“If you’re wondering how wedding planning is going...thanks so much to The Warehouse on Ivy for letting us know we’re not welcome,” May captioned the photo of the exchange, which had over 1,400 shares on Tuesday.

“I was kind of speechless,” Mayfield said of reading the email. “I just had to like hand the phone over to Bri when I got it.”

“I had hoped that this wouldn't happen in North Carolina, but I thought there was a chance it may. I didn't expect it from a venue in Winston,” added Mayfield, 25, who has lived in the area for the past 10 years. May, 29, was born and raised in Winston-Salem.

The couple met on the dating app Bumble over two years ago and got engaged last month while listening to their favorite album, “Golden Hour” by Kacey Musgraves. They had only just started planning for their wedding, which they hope to hold in the fall of 2022. Mayfield said she and May first heard of The Warehouse on Ivy through the online wedding resource Wedding Wire.

'Christian values'

The venue did not tell May and Mayfield why it does not host same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, in an email exchange with NBC News, the same email account, which lists the sender’s name as Daniel Stanley, confirmed the couple’s assumptions surrounding the decision.

“We will allow anyone of any color, race, religion or belief to use our venue at any given time,” the email stated. “Although we love and respect everyone in our community, their own decision making and beliefs, we also strongly believe in our Christian values.”

Multiple attempts to confirm that the statement was sent by Stanley, whose LinkedIn account says he’s the venue’s director, were ignored, as were questions surrounding the venue’s ownership.

According to North Carolina incorporation filings, The Warehouse on Ivy is owned by STC Properties of Forsyth County and lists Thomas Collins and Scott Sechler as the company’s managers. Reporting from The Winston-Salem Monthly, which features interviews with the Sechler family about the recently opened venue, confirms Sechler’s ownership.

Multiple attempts to reach Sechler and Collins were unsuccessful, and by Monday the venue had taken down its Facebook and Instagram pages.

'Free to discriminate'

The issue of where anti-discrimination laws begin and First Amendment and religious liberty rights end remains something of an open question legally — and much of it depends on state law.

In the high-profile 2018 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. But instead of answering the fundamental question of whether it is legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, the high court simply found that Phillips’ concerns weren’t fairly considered by Colorado officials.

In a similar case, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Arlene Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, was in violation of that state’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding ceremony. The shop has appealed, for the second time, to the Supreme Court. Its petition is pending.

Unlike Colorado and Washington state, however, North Carolina — along with 22 other states across the U.S. — does not have a law explicitly banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. And until this month, the state had a moratorium on cities passing their own nondiscrimination protections.

With no explicit state protections and no federal legislation banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations, a state like North Carolina leaves little room for legal recourse, according to Paul Smith, a Georgetown Law School professor who argued the landmark 2003 LGBTQ rights case Lawrence v. Texas before the Supreme Court.

“The only shot would seem to be finding a state law that prohibits sex discrimination in the provision of goods and services and then convincing North Carolina to read ‘sex discrimination’ in its law as broadly as the majority did in Bostock [v. Clayton County, Georgia],” Smith said, referring to the landmark ruling this year that found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offered workplace discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rick Su, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, was even less optimistic when it comes to the state.

“North Carolina has no state law on public accommodations not related to disabilities and no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT identity,” Su told NBC News. “Given there is no federal law protecting LGBT [people] either, this would mean that the wedding venue is free to discriminate.”

There are, however, two things that could potentially change this in the near future: the Equality Act and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The former is proposed federal legislation that would add LGBTQ protections to existing federal civil rights law. It passed in the House last year, and President-elect Joe Biden has said he would like to sign it within his first 100 days in office.

The latter is a case before the Supreme Court that will determine whether a government-funded, religiously affiliated child welfare agency can circumvent local nondiscrimination laws and refuse to work with LGBTQ people. If the justices issue a broad ruling in the case, it could have far-reaching implications, according to legal experts.

A silver lining

Mayfield said she and May “aren’t considering legal action at this time,” but she added that they are “urging our friends to email legislators to help try and pass discrimination laws for LGBTQ people.”

In addition to advocating for legislative action, the couple also wants to get the word out to the local LGBTQ community about The Warehouse on Ivy’s policies.

“We have a lot of gay friends in our circle, so I wanted to hopefully save people the time and, kind of, hurt and energy, from getting rejected based on our sexual orientation,” May said of their decision to go public about the ordeal.

In addition to receiving “kind and encouraging words” in response to her now-viral Facebook post, May said she’s also received some helpful wedding tips and offers.

“We've gotten so many wonderful recommendations for other vendors and venues, and we've had people offering services,” she said.

Summing up the experience — from the venue’s rejection to the viral social media response to the messages of support — Mayfield said it’s all been “definitely overwhelming, but in a good way.”

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