Last week, Viaggio Estate & Winery in Lodi, California told a same-sex couple they couldn’t have their wedding there because the owner had “a very strong personal religious belief regarding marriage, which is for marriage to be between heterosexual couples only.” The Viaggio people said a reception would be allowed, but not the wedding.
When Nikki Levy heard about that rejection on a local Facebook group, she made a fictional inquiry of her own, just to see what they would say. She received the same response.
A Christian business owner with bigoted views isn’t a new story. Neither is the person on the other end posting the exchange online, as Levy did, along with the contact information for winery owner Teri Lawrence.
What is new is what happened next:
Teri Lawrence apologized. She admitted in a statement that her religious bigotry was hurting people. And then she said she was changing the rules to eliminate the discrimination.
“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. I realize now that contrary to my intent, this was hurtful to the people involved,” Lawrence wrote.
“Our staff, our customers and our community have helped me see that I was wrong. Our policy has been changed, effective immediately. All couples are welcome to hire our facilities for weddings and the celebrations that go with them. I am sincerely sorry to have caused anyone pain at a time that should be joyous.”
No doubt that’s a step in the right direction. It’s also unfortunate — and frankly, quite suspect — that Lawrence realized the error of her homophobic ways only after her business was threatened. It’s also a classic “apology” trick to be sad for the harm people felt, not the views that led to that harm in the first place.
Maybe she really did change. I’d like to think she did. But people have been calling out faith-based hatred like this for years, and it never did the trick, so what did her colleagues say to her now that was so magically different?
And what will Lawrence do now about all the hateful organizations she belongs to?
A bio page found on the couple’s real estate company website identifies Teri Lawrence as “a founding member of Diversity Reform USA and an active member of Eagle Forum of Sacramento.” Both of those groups profess “pro-family” beliefs and take stances against gay marriage, gay adoption and teaching about homosexuality in schools.
If she really has had a change of heart, she should leave those groups immediately, right…? She hasn’t said she’s left.
It’s also not clear if the couple that caught Levy’s attention will hold their wedding at that venue now that it’s available to them. (Why would they?)
Even if it was the public pressure that forces these companies to do the right thing, it’s still a sign that Christianity is no longer an acceptable excuse for bad behavior.