By Tim Fitzsimons
After getting engaged on a European vacation last year, Aaron Lucero and Jeff Cannon returned to Texas to find a place to tie the knot.
The two men thought they found the perfect location for their November wedding when they came across The Venue at Waterstone in Celina, just north of Dallas.
“We thought that like a country wedding was just kind of very classy and very Texas, and so that’s what we wanted,” Cannon told NBC’s local Dallas affiliate.
But before the couple showed up for a planned tour, they were told they could not be served due to the deeply held religious beliefs of The Venue’s owner. “We were not welcomed there,” Cannon said.
In an email sent to the couple and shared with NBC 5, The Venue at Waterstone’s owner told the two men that he believes marriage “is a representation of the bride of Christ joined to the groom (Christ who is the very God we worship). Given His plan and design for marriage, we dare not veer from His instruction… we are not able to violate our conscience.”
“It’s 2019, is this really happening to us? I was kind of shocked,” Lucero said.
“Before that, we never even thought that we needed to tell people that we were, you know, doing a same-sex wedding,” Cannon added. “We thought that a wedding is a wedding.”
There is no federal law that explicitly prevents discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, only 20 states explicitly ban this type of discrimination — and Texas is not one of them.
Some cities and regions within conservative states, like Dallas, have passed ordinances banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in public accommodations, but The Venue at Waterstone, which sits outside Dallas, is not located in such a locality.
Stephen Peters, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, told NBC News that “discrimination is a real and persistent problem for LGBTQ people” in the U.S., and he advocated for passage of the Equality Act at the federal level.
“An overwhelming majority of Americans, leading businesses, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle all agree that now is the time for Congress to end the patchwork of protections and pass the Equality Act,” he stated, adding that this measure is “critically important federal legislation that would finally add clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people to our nation’s civil rights laws.”
After sharing their story, Lucero and Cannon said they have “received support from all over the world,” and NBC 5 noted that wedding site TheKnot.com has removed The Venue at Waterstone from its popular website.
“It’s their right to refuse service to us, but if you’re going to do that at least just be transparent with your policy and put that on your website,” Lucero said, adding that he hopes he and Cannon will find another more welcoming venue.
Lyle Wise, the owner of The Venue at Waterstone, issued a statement regarding his refusal to serve Lucero and Cannon.
“We are a family of believers. We love all people because Christ first loved us; Jeffrey and Aaron included,” Wise stated. “We cannot violate the convictions God has placed within us. In love, we would never affirm anyone in something that was to their detriment.”