After three years together, Aaron Lucero and Jeffrey Cannon got engaged in June 2018. Timing was not too big of a deal, since the pair planned for a long engagement. "I'm a teacher so we sort of put off planning our wedding," Lucero tells Out. "We knew we wanted to wait over a year just because of all the stresses of starting the new school year."
This weekend, the couple finally kicked off their planning, after a few weeks of online research, mostly via The Knot. There, they set up a joint profile as a same-sex couple and earmarked a few possible venues. "We wanted this country wedding, on the outskirts of Dallas," Lucero explains. "We wanted it to be out of the city on a beautiful barn or farm land, or something like that." But on Saturday, after having set up appointments with a number of venues, the couple's wedding plans took a turn.
After a day of viewing venues, the husbands to be went to celebrate 15 same-sex couples renewing their vows at The Church of the Transfiguration. On the way home from that event, they received an email from The Venue at Waterstone in Celina, Texas, a venue which Lucero says was his first choice in locations.
"The design for marriage that we hold to is based upon the design [God] set forth which is a representation of the bride of Christ joined to the groom," the email read, signed by Lyle Wise. Lucero posted screenshots of the message to Twitter and Facebook. "Given His plan and design for marriage, we dare not veer from His instruction lest we be guilty of altering what He has set forth."
Wise wrote that he opened The Venue 27 years ago after a vision from God. As such, the location does not host nuptials for queer people.
"Though we do not host LGBTQ weddings or receptions," Wise added, "we are more than happy to converse and further explain our beliefs and the love God has shown us as well as how He is conforming our lives to himself." Neither Lucero nor Out was able to find language disclosing The Venue is a religious venue on its website.
"When we read that email, it was like a punch to the gut," Lucero says. "I'm Mexican and I immigrated here when I was 2 years-old. I now live in Texas. This is a state that is very Republican. I'm a Democrat. We both grew up Mormon. So there's a lot of reasons for me to have experienced discrimination, but I never did, so this was really emotional." Lucero says that he and his fiance were distraught, leading Lucero to cry all day. Cannon responded to the email, explaining not only the couple's own religious upbringing and how it was, at times, at odds with his orientation, but also a change the couple would like to see.
"Our prayer is that God will one day open your hearts as well so that you will be able to welcome all of His children into your beautiful venue," he wrote. "Until that day comes however, we would petition you to please make your faith known to the public on your website and with Knot.com so that other same sex couples do not have to go through the same rejection that we have gone through with you.
Lucero and Canon aren't the only couple who have to go through this. Many LGBTQ+ couples have the experience of having to "come out" to each and every venue or vendor they encounter during wedding planning. Lucero found this out firsthand, scrolling through the help page on The Knot website where, since at least 2016, queer couples have left comments asking the site to change the site's functionality, allowing users to filter results. After the Saturday email from The Venue at Waterstone, the couple also reached out to all of the venues they had scheduled appointments for Sunday to disclose that they were gay. Of the three appointments they had already set, they ended up cancelling two after getting responses saying that the spaces were not "well equipped" for same-sex weddings.
"It's easy to think that all wedding vendors are open to work with LGBTQ+ couples -- it's 2019 after all," Brittny Drye, founder and editor in chief of Love Inc. Magazine, a wedding publication predicated on equality, wrote in an email. "And while most are, I still receive responses from many who are not, even in progressive cities like New York and San Francisco. Enough for me to know that we still have a long way to go." And navigating that market can be tricky.
While queer-specific directories exist, and Love Inc. hosts its own, Lucero said he chose The Knot because of the size of the platform. "They've been around so long, they have their stuff together and they have so many resources that others don't have," he says. "Yes, they have these little badges for LGBTQ+ friendly vendors but you can't filter for that. So the onus is also on TheKnot because they can do something to change the experience for gay couples." And they have.
"Our company supports everyone's right to marry the person they love and prohibits any vendor on our site from discriminating against a couple based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.," a spokesperson from XO Group, which owns The Knot, wrote to Out in a statement. In the email they also referenced a June 2018 Instagram post from the company's CEO Mike Steib that outlined its position.
"When we learn that a vendor has violated these terms of service, we will remove the vendor's storefront and refund his or her money," Steib wrote. "We love our couples, and all of our couples deserve a marketplace free of unfair prejudice." Company representatives said that The Venue at Waterstone has been removed from The Knot.
The decision is more than Lucero would have asked for, though he says he does "appreciate what they are doing." But he advocates for more of a proactive approach in the future, calling for vendors and venues to be transparents on their stance surrounding queer couples upfront.
"They have the power to make a difference, not just by kicking companies off their market place [after,] but by using their influence and power to really make a difference," he says.
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