GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new wedding venue on Grand Rapids’ westside is coming under fire after saying they will not allow same-sex marriages.
The Broadway Avenue venue opened two weeks ago and celebrated its grand opening Sunday night. The owners Nick and Hannah Natale say they worked in the wedding industry for about eight years. Nick was an executive chef while Hannah worked as a photographer. They say they’ve been working to open their own wedding venue since 2018.
“We feel like this is a different vibe from other venues in the area. So we wanted to bring something new to people of Grand Rapids and ultimately, we love love,” said Hannah.
The owners say about a week or two ago, they started receiving fierce backlash after community members learned of their policies on same-sex marriages. An Instagram post from the business has several hundred comments, many disagreeing with their policy.
“We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Those are our beliefs, what we grew up with and that’s how we run our house, how we run our marriage. So now that we’re opening a business, we are going to continue that,” said Hannah Natale.
“I think we knew it was going to be a very controversial decision for us to run our business based on our faith and our belief in God and what we believe marriage looks like through the Bible. The hardest part has been the real nasty stuff we’ve been getting: death threats, malicious words to our children, attacking personal pages, other family members, friends,” Nick Natale later added.
The two said the policy doesn’t apply to wedding guests, employees or vendors. The couple also said people who want to get married at their venue are not required to be Christian or believe in God. They went on to explain that they also will not allow marriages between transgender people because they believe marriage is between biological men and women. However, the owners say people of the LGBT community are welcome to host other events in their space like birthday parties, open houses, etc. The only event they will not host is a same-sex wedding.
The owners say despite the backlash they’ve received, they will not be changing their stance.
“Our decision is not rooted in hate towards the community. It’s just our belief on marriage,” said Nick Natale.
The controversial policy sparked a protest outside of the business Monday night. About 20 people gathered on the sidewalk near the business in solidarity with the LGBT community, holding signs, pride flags and wearing rainbow-colored clothing.
“If you are offering a public service, you need to be open and inclusive. You can’t discriminate based off of XYZ,” said Meghan Cytacki-Lewis, who helped to organize the demonstration. “Some people might think it’s silly that we are protesting over whether or not LGBTQIA+ couples can get married in this venue but it’s the start of something more. We’ve already seen huge rollbacks in human rights: Roe v. Wade overturned, our civil rights act.”
Jessica Krebs, who also helped organize the demonstration, said it’s exclusionary things like this that they believe contribute to higher rates of suicide and mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.
“I’m so tired of having this conversation, of us trying to convince people of our value and worth as humans and our love or anything else. We were talking earlier about how this affects everybody, not just the LGBT community,” Krebs said.
Krebs said while she doesn’t think it’s likely, they want to see an anti-discrimination policy from the venue. Krebs says at the very least the business needs to be transparent with a plainly written-out policy on their website that they don’t allow same-sex marriages. Krebs says this way customers can make their own decision about whether they want to do business with the venue.
The Natales said they are not planning to reimburse couples who now want to pull out of their venue contracts after learning of the owners’ views. They say they are considering posting their same-sex marriage policy but to their knowledge are not required to do so. The couple says they have run into vendors who did not want to work with them based on their policies.
There’s a similar case working its way through the Michigan Supreme Court. That case came about after a wedding venue in Sturgis refused to service a same-sex couple and a hair removal business up north refused to service a transgender woman. Both businesses argued that it would impede on their rights to religious freedom, while the complainants say their civil rights were violated. The attorney general and attorneys for the business gave the court their oral arguments in March.
News 8 asked the Broadway Avenue venue owners if they’re concerned about legal challenges. They say they plan to take them as they come and have already consulted an attorney. The owners continued business as usual Monday night.