Teri and Larry Lawrence, Owners of Viaggio Estate & Winery, Cancel Lesbian Couple’s Wedding Because Same-sex Marriage Violates Their Religious Beliefs — But Then Reverse Decision

(From left to right) Married real estate agents Teri and Larry Lawrence are the owners of Viaggio Estate & Winery

A same sex couple that wanted to get married at a California winery say they were refused because the religious owners felt same sex marriage went against their beliefs.

Dezanea Reyes and her fiance Alex Biddle, who are both 25, were looking to host their nuptials at Viaggio Estate & Winery in Acampo, California, a rural town 34 miles south of Sacramento in the state’s wine country region.

Dezanea Reyes and her fiance Alex Biddle wanted to host their wedding at Viaggio Estate and Winery in Acampo, California
An entrance at Viaggio Estate & Winery in Acampo, California

After emailing Viaggio’s staff, however, the couple was told the winery has never hosted a same-sex marriage and would prefer not to host theirs while acknowledging refusing to provide service based on sexual orientation is illegal.  California’s Civil Rights Act 2005 outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

‘The owners welcome you to come by to discuss the following issue further in person,’ events director Angelina Hodson wrote in an email posted on Facebook.

‘They understand that California statutory law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and they don’t like to think they would ever discriminate on that basis even if the law allowed them to do so,’ the email continued. ‘However, the owner also has a very strong personal religious belief regarding marriage, which is for marriage to be between heterosexual couples only.’

Reyes posted screenshots of the email she received on Facebook in a post that went viral and has since made national headlines. The story compelled many supporters of the LGBTQ rights to post negative reviews on the winery’s Yelp page.

On Wednesday, the winery’s owners – real estate agents Teri and Larry Lawrence of White House Real Estate – had a change of heart, while maintaining they never intended to be discriminatory.

‘In recent communications with potential visitors, I tried to explore options for celebrations that would accommodate both my religious beliefs and the expectations of our community,’ Lawrence wrote in a statement released on Wednesday.

‘I realize now that contrary to my intent, this was hurtful to the people involved. Our staff, our customers and our community have helped me see that I was wrong. Our policy has been changed, effective immediately.’

Reyes told the San Francisco Chronicle the winery owners’ reversal was just a ‘pity’ move to quell the backlash they have received.

‘We’re all people, and no matter who we decide to marry, or who we decide to be with, we shouldn’t feel like it’s wrong for us to reach out to companies and ask for inquiries,’ Reyes said. ‘On the business aspect, yes, I do believe [the winery] was discriminating. At the end of the day, we’re all God’s people.’

There was some confusion over whether the winery has the right to refuse to service a same sex wedding based on its religious beliefs. The winery’s previous emails noted that it hosts LGBTQ individuals for events other than same-sex weddings.

Adam Romero, federal policy director at UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute, which researches LGBTQ rights, cleared that up, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that California businesses that refuse service to same-sex couples are violating state law.

The state Supreme Court in 1996 ruled businesses must follow California’s anti-discrimination laws regardless of their beliefs.

[The winery situation] is not just about a same-sex couple being turned away from a business and the inconvenience that follows,’ Romero said. ‘This case is also about the dignitary and psychological harms that discrimination exacts on gay people.’

SOURCE: Daily Mail, Chauncey Alcorn