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"We don't do gay weddings or mixed race": Mississippi wedding venue turns away family in viral video

When an engaged couple decided to have their wedding at Boone's Camp Event Hall in Booneville, Mississippi, they contacted the venue's owner and started making arrangements. But after about a week, LaKambria Welch, the sister of the groom, says the owner got back to the couple with shocking news: They could no longer have their wedding there.

Why? According to Welch, it's because her brother is black and his fiancée is white and mixed-race marriages go against the venue owner's religious beliefs.

Welch told the online publication Deep South Voice that when she heard what happened she wanted to do something about it. So she went to the venue herself and filmed her exchange with a woman working there.

"First of all, we don't do gay weddings or mixed race, because of our Christian race — I mean, our Christian belief," the unnamed woman tells Welch in the video.

"OK, we're Christians as well," Welch replies. "So, what in the Bible tells you that..."

"Well, I don't want to argue my faith," the woman says. "We just don't participate."

Welch posted the video clip, others also shared it, and it quickly went viral.

Welch told Deep South Voice she believes the venue employees didn't know her brother's and his fiancée's races until finding them on Facebook. That's when they told the couple they'd no longer work with them. 

The Mississippi Secretary of State's website lists the owners of the event hall as David and Donna Russell. CBS News has not been able to find contact information for the Russells or the event hall; the Facebook page for Boone's Camp Event Hall has been taken down and no website for the business could be located.

It appears, however, that an apology was posted on the Boone's Camp Event Hall Facebook page when the page was still active. A local woman posted screenshots, which have not been independently verified by CBS News.

The author of the Facebook post says her initial belief about keeping races separate was something she learned "as a child growing up in Mississippi."

"On Saturday, my husband asked me to show him in the Bible where it was located as to the content concerning biracial relationships," the post read, according to the screenshot. "I was unable to recall instances where the Bible was used giving a verse that would support my decision."

The author of the post says after searching all weekend and consulting with her pastor, she determined there is no verse in the Bible that supports this belief. "There are two requirements for marriage and race has nothing to do with either," the post continues. 

The Washington Post reports the author of the Facebook post goes on to offer an apology, saying: "My intent was never racism, but to stand firm on what I 'assumed' right concerning marriage."

Screenshot of a Facebook post apparently from Boone's Camp Event Hall.  Screenshot by Whitney Turner

A statement about the incident was posted on the City of Booneville Facebook page. 

"The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen are aware of the comments recently made by a privately owned business located within the city of Booneville," the statement reads. "The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status."

"Furthermore, the City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen do not condone or approve these types of discriminatory policies," the statement continues. 

The City of Booneville, Mayor, and Board of Aldermen are aware of the comments recently made by a privately owned...

Posted by City of Booneville on Monday, September 2, 2019

Mississippi has a "religious freedom" law, which allows merchants and government employees to cite their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples. The law, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, sought to protect three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman; sex should only take place in such a marriage; and a person's gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a baker in Colorado to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. 

While the owner of Boone's Camp Event Hall may legally be allowed to refuse to serve same-sex couples, federal laws should protect Americans against racially-based discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled in 1967, in the famous case of Loving v. Virginia, that state laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional. 

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