A Lorraine couple were left hurt and angry after they were told by staff at popular wedding venue Running Waters that they could not enter a competition as it did not cater for gay couples.
Mariska Swanepoel, 25 and Jaenine Jackson, 29 spent last weekend at Running Waters Bridal Fair in the run-up to their September wedding and despite Swanepoel’s slight discomfort at being shown goodies for her “husband-to-be” the couple were taken with the venue and keen to enter a competition where a couple would win a wedding reception.
Swanepoel’s excitement however turned to dismay when, via a Facebook message, she told Running Waters that she and her fiance were both women, only to be met with a reply which stated the competition was only for couples of “the opposite sex”.
This was compounded by the fact that her enquiries about holding her wedding at Running Waters had been ignored since she first contacted the venue in December. In Swanepoel’s initial e-mails she had mentioned that she and Jackson were a same-sex couple.
The wedding competition incident was made public when a member of the public questioned Running Waters about the discrimination on their Facebook page.
And while Running Waters responded denying the incident, an e-mail sent to Swanepoel by the administrator of the Running Waters Facebook page, which Weekend Post has seen, categorically stated that the competition was only open to couples who were of opposite sexes.
When questioned about this, Running Waters owner Eben Gerber said he had responded on the Facebook site and was not willing to discuss it further.
On Facebook the administrator wrote: “Running Waters categorically deny that any entry was removed from the draw on account of sexual orientation.
“We have confirmed with the events company who assisted us with our Bridal Expo that no entry was removed. We are committed to provide professional service to all our brides and grooms.”
When pressed on the issue and told that Weekend Post had seen the mail sent to Swanepoel that stated that gay couples could not enter, Gerber said, “I have nothing to say to you. This has been sorted out. I have taken it to our lawyers.”
He would not elaborate on how the issue had been sorted out.
Swanepoel, however, said they had heard nothing from Running Waters.
Swanepoel said she hoped that by speaking up about the incident they could prevent other couples from being hurt in the future.
“We tend to surround ourselves with positive people and, being a gay couple, when we go out we never try and take people out of their comfort zones but this is who we are and we are not going to change,” she said.
The couple, who describe themselves as adventurous nature lovers said they, like any other couple, just wanted to be happy.
“We are family-oriented people who plan on having children,” said Swanepoel.
She said that while she and Jackson had experienced minor incidents of discrimination in the past, “this is just a little bit too far”.
Jackson agreed and asked what would happen if people were told they couldn’t marry somewhere because they were black or if doctors said they wouldn’t treat people based on race or sexual orientation.
“Imagine if everyone had a mindset like that. Where would we be?”
Swanepoel said, “We need to stand up for what we believe in. We don’t want other people to be hurt like this.” Eastern Cape Gay and Lesbian Association chairman David Hessey said there was still far too much discrimination against same sex couples but added: “we are slowly winning the battle.”
He said the South African Constitution was quite clear that gay marriage is legal and “can take place anywhere”.
He said he would encourage anyone facing prejudice to speak up.
“It’s a constant battle but we are chipping away at it. We won with Home Affairs where there was still a lot of discrimination. They now have to perform the marriages but we still find that they don’t like it and will often tell couples the office bearers are not there and the couple will have to come back next week,” he said.