Owner of Mississippi Wedding Venue Apologizes for Refusing Services to Mixed-Race Couple due to ‘Christian Beliefs’

Owners of a wedding venue in Mississippi refused to allow a mixed-race couple to hold their wedding in their facility, citing their Christian beliefs. The owners have apologized after meeting with a pastor and finding — despite what they said they believed their whole lives — that no passage in the Bible condemns mixed-race marriage.

The owners of the Boone’s Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi issued an apology on Facebook on Aug. 3, but they have since deleted their page. The sister of the groom, LaKambria Welch had filmed her interaction with a woman who worked for Boone’s Camp Event Hall, and shared it on Facebook. She went to the venue with her mother to inquire about a message her brother, who is Black, and his fiancée, who is white, received, which said the owners would not serve them because of their beliefs.  She declined to name her brother and future sister-in-law to protect their privacy.

“We don’t do gay weddings or mixed-race, because of our Christian race, I mean our Christian belief,” the woman in the video said to Welch.

In the video, Welch questions the woman.

“We’re Christians as well, so, what in the Bible tells you that?”

The woman replies, saying she does not want to argue her faith.

Welch told the New York Times one of the owners, Donna Russell, apologized to the family privately. Welch said they had accepted the apology. However, the internet has not been as forgiving. The video went viral on social media, and the venue owners deleted their Facebook page due to the backlash before reactivating it to issue the apology, then deleting it again.

The since-deleted Facebook apology says that after the incident, the owners met with a pastor who told them no passage in the Bible prevents interracial marriage, despite their previous understanding that it did. The statement said the owners had been taught from the time they were children that races should remain separate.

“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,” the author, presumably Russell, wrote. “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.”

Khyla Shumpert, who shared the video on Twitter, grew up in Booneville and identifies as mixed. In an interview with Newsweek, she said she knew both Welch and Russell, and that Russell was once a neighbor and friend of her family.

“It just shows that at the core of this discrimination is racism,” she said.

She also said she was sorry to see her hometown receive such negative press but said the awareness-raising was necessary.

I have great friends who are wonderful advocates for everyone no matter who they are, what they look like, or their sexual preference, so I just hate how it has given Booneville and MS such a negative view,” she wrote to Newsweek. “There really are some great people who love everyone so well, but of course, this is what has gotten the world’s attention and rightfully so. I hate [that] it happened, but if it will bring real change and awareness that people of color are still being discriminated against in 2019, then so be it.”

Boone’s Camp’s apology also said the owners have invited the couple to use their venue. The story was originally reported by the Deep South Voice, and also cited another woman, Katelynn Springsteen, who said  in 2018 the venue refused to offer their services to her friend, who is a lesbian.

Laws against interracial marriage have been overturned since the landmark Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia in 1967. In 2015, same-sex marriage became legal nationwide, but the following year, Mississippi passed a law that offers special protections to opponents of same-sex marriage on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” However, the legislation says nothing about race or ethnicity.

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In a statement Tuesday, Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Religion should never be exploited as a license to discriminate.”