"Being a same-sex couple that is openly in love and able to express this through marriage commitment has been one of the best things to happen to us."
This is according to Stephen van Belkum, co-owner of Stephward Estate, a wedding venue on KZN's South Coast. He spoke to HuffPost SA following an alleged refusal by a wedding venue in the Western Cape to host a wedding for a same-sex couple.
Stephward Estate, which Van Belkum co-owns with his partner, Howard Eages, advertises same sex weddings on its website. Asked why this was important, Van Belkum told HuffPost SA: "As gay people ourselves, we went into this business because it's a market no one seems to care much for."
He added: "Why must people go to dingy places to get married when they want to and can afford the best places?"
Van Belkum believed conditions imposed by some wedding venues that decide to host same-sex weddings can be exploitative.
"We had a couple recently, who told us that a certain wedding venue pushed their fee from R4,000 to R40,000 because they were gay! The couple was hysterical."
Van Belkum believed some wedding venues agree on email to host a wedding, until they see you walk in with your same-sex partner for a viewing.
Homophobia in events industry
Jenny Worthington, of website GayWeddingDestinations.com, says such websites are important.
"The businesses that advertise on our website are actively looking to encourage same-sex weddings so when gay and lesbian couples filter search results, they will see gay-friendly wedding services. This is important when there is still unfortunately so much homophobia in the events and hospitality industry," she said.
It need not be the case, however.
"Same-sex marriages are protected in our Constitution. In fact, this country's Constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone, including orientation and gender identity," said Kim Lithgow, the founder of gay support group Same Love Toti.
Constitutional law expert, Pierre de Vos, tweeted to the same effect, emphasising that the law overrides the private venue's decision:
— Pierre de Vos (@pierredevos) August 2, 2017
In 1990, the World Health Organisation declared that being gay was neither a sickness nor a mental condition and therefore did not need to be "cured" or changed, pointed out Lithgow. "We must realise that it's a normal thing -- even if you may not like to see it. No one is asking straight people to be gay so I don't know what the issues really is," Lithgow told HuffPost SA.
"At the end of the day, gay people want the same things straight people want. You find a connection with someone you love and you want to marry them and build a life with them. Why is that such an issue?" Lithgow asked.
She believed there is a lot that still needs to be done to address issues the LGBTI community is facing, such as day-to-day bullying and extreme forms of violence. "Sensitise and teach kids from pre-school that people are different," she advised.
Before they get to own wedding venues themselves, they will be more aware and hopefully more accepting, Lithgow concludes.