Nine years ago, Anthony Wilfert and Brian Blas met while serving at Fort Campbell, Tennessee; they served together in Iraq, under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, keeping their relationship a secret. But with the repeal of DADT, and now civilians, the couple wanted to hold a commitment ceremony to honor their relationship.
That’s when the shiz hit the fan.
Wilfert and Blas found the Mint Springs Farm — whose website deemed it an “all-inclusive venue” — and together they toured the facility with an employee, who told them there would be no issue with the couple having their ceremony at the site.
"I made it clear from the get-go that it was a same-sex ceremony. He explicitly made it clear that it was not an issue, that they would host that type of ceremony."—Anthony Wilfert
Two days later, they got an e-mail from the owner at Mint Springs Farm that stated:
"Unfortunately, until same sex marriage is legal in the state of Tennessee, we cannot participate in this ceremony at our venue. I wish we could help, I truly do, but our hands are tied in this situation."
Okay, fine, and understandable. Except this wasn’t a marriage ceremony, but a commitment ceremony. There was no marriage license involved and no need for the state of Tennessee to get involved. It was to be a symbolic commitment ceremony between two men, and not a legally binding marriage. So why the kerfuffle?
Once the story broke, Mint Springs Farms released a statement:
"We are deeply sorry that a staff member of ours was unaware of our policy and truly understand the disappointment of this couple. Our employee was simply trying to be helpful to this couple who visited our venue after hours.
We only do weddings at our facility. When we went into this endeavor, we knew that due to the nature of our business, this situation would arise. However, Tennessee law currently states that same-sex marriage is prohibited by the Tennessee State Constitution. Because we only host weddings, we cannot violate Tennessee law.
This decision does not in any way reflect or convey any personal feelings on this matter.
We wish this couple the very best."
So, let me get this queer: your staff member, who takes prospective clients on a tour of the facilities doesn’t know the rules of who can, or can’t, use the venue? Your staff member doesn’t know that you don’t do commitment ceremonies? And what does the fact that Wilfert and Blas toured the facility “after hours” have to do with anything?
Again, Anthony Wilfert and Brian Blas were not having a wedding, so Tennessee law has no place in the story, and the fact that you call your facility an “all-inclusive” venue is not quite the truth. And that’s where, as always, I have the issues.
Post it on your website: We don’t do same-sex ceremonies, marriage, commitment or otherwise. And then maybe Anthony Wilfert and Brian Blas wouldn’t have chosen to tour Mint Springs Farms, and then maybe your employee, who knew what the two men wanted, wouldn’t have told them that their ceremony wouldn’t have been a problem.
As it stands, Anthony Wilfert and Brian Blas are making new plans for a day friends and family can gather to celebrate their nine years with a simple, symbolic ceremony. And they’ll be holding their celebration at another venue that doesn’t promise one thing and deliver another.
"To have fought in the military for freedoms and liberties of all Americans, it can be quite deflating to come back to fight a whole new set of obstacles.”—Anthony Wilfert
Good for them, and bad on Mint Springs Farms.
UPDATE: It seems that Mint Springs Farms has had a change of heart and has released a new statement detailing their new policy:
"As owners of Mint Springs farm we have had time to regroup and reflect. We have reached out to the community and started a dialogue with Tennessee Equality Project. The Executive Director, Chris Sanders was able to meet with us. In order to move forward we have decided to change our policy. We will offer commitment ceremonies for any future couples that have a legal license from other states or countries. We also want to broaden this offer to include couples who simply want a commitment ceremony with no intention of obtaining legal marriage license. This will be our policy moving forward, it will remain true to all future prospective clients."
Okay then, good on them, though no word on whether or not Anthony and Brian will use the facility now.