FUQUAY-VARINA — A Wake County wedding venue faced backlash over the weekend after social media posts showed the venue was refusing to host weddings for same-sex couples.
McCae Henderson, a Raleigh attorney, said he and his fiancé, Ike Edwards, became engaged in February and were looking into various venues in the area when a friend suggested the Highgrove Estate.
Edwards reached out to the venue, noting they were two grooms, and three days later they received a reply that the owner did not host same-sex couples.
“It was shocking,” Henderson said. “We have not experienced that thus far in the wedding planning process, or really, in our lives. I mean, we’re from Raleigh and Cary.”
Henderson, a Raleigh native, said he and Edwards, who grew up in Cary, hadn’t faced “that kind of discrimination” in the area before.
The two posted about the venue’s response on their Instagram accounts, and received an outpouring of support from friends and community members.
In a statement, the owners of the venue wrote: “Highgrove has always welcomed vendors, guests and employees of all orientations and we do not discriminate against a people or group. We believe in the sanctity of marriage as God says in the Bible that marriage is between a man and a woman and we choose to honor Him above what the world decides what marriage should be.”
Its Instagram and Facebook accounts have gone private since the backlash began, and negative reviews have flooded its Google page in recent days. Highgrove told ABC11 that there had been at least one threat made against the business.
Henderson emphasized that while he and Edwards would like to see changes to the law, he stressed that no one should threaten violence against the venue or its staff.
In North Carolina, federal and state laws protect against discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, sex and national origin.
“It’s just sad to see that homosexuality and being a member of the LGBTQ community is not a part of the protected classes in the legislation, and that these businesses are able to turn us away,” Henderson said. “I think that a lot of people don’t realize we could go to a restaurant, and the restaurant can see us holding hands and legally tell us to get out.”
When Asher McAlonen, who was raised in Fuquay-Varina, started looking for wedding venues in 2018, he decided to look for somewhere close to home.
“It’s always been a big part of my life,” he said of the town. “Highgrove being relatively local, we thought it was a good option for us to get married.”
But when McAlonen, who identified as a woman at the time, and his fiancée Sarah Riddle contacted the venue, they received a similar message to Henderson and Edwards.
“We were both just kind of taken aback,” he said. “It was one of the first times that either of us had someone openly admit that they were not going to provide us service just because of who we love.”
The couple, who live in Asheville, said they’ve found a venue in York, South Carolina, where Riddle’s family lives. The two plan to marry next month.
“It’s a basic human right for people to love who they want to love, and marry that person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, anything,” McAlonen said. “To us, as it is to anyone, marriage is a very sacred thing.”
He said they had reached out to some media outlets at the time, and are glad to see the story getting coverage now.
“To be denied the ability to take that next step is discouraging,” he said. “A lot of people like to believe that those issues don’t still exist, especially now that we’re in 2021. But the reality is that they still do.”