Students weigh in on local case of anti-LGBTQ business controversy


Claudia Hernandez

Grace Gardens is an exclusive West Texas Venue for weddings, quinceañeras, sweet sixteens and other social or corporate events.

Bryan Mena, Entertainment Editor

UTEP students reacted to a recent case of the anti-LGBTQ business controversy involving Grace Gardens, an event venue on the western outskirts of El Paso. 

On the morning of Sept. 16, Cassandra Castillo posted on Facebook that a representative from Grace Gardens declined to organize wedding services for her “because of the owner’s beliefs.”  

The post has more than 350 shares, 600 reactions and 400 comments. Castillo’s post revived sentiments of frustration and shock by the local LGBTQ community on social media. 

KVIA reported on a similar case in 2015 and KFOX 14 reported on another case as early as 2013. Both stories connected to Grace Gardens, as well 

“It’s always risky to take a religious stance, or even political when it comes to running a business,” said Sandra Rodriguez, owner of Grace Gardens. “We believe that anyone with strong convictions on their religious beliefs should be free to exercise those rights. Businesses have a right to be true to their religious convictions.” 

Rodriguez is a devout Christian who holds Bible studies at her church and has served as a missionary in other countries. She believes there is “no tolerance for upholding true biblical values.” 

Regarding hosting wedding services for couples who have divorced multiple times, Rodriguez said, “We are not the moral police for heterosexual couples. As for samesex marriage, we see no place for it within the biblical scripture.” 

Michael Gutierrez, president of the Queer Student Alliance at UTEP, said Rodriguez is entitled to her right to religious freedom granted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

“It’s not about forcing Ms. Rodriguez to serve anyone, but rather about her understanding the impact of her beliefs,” Gutierrez said. It makes people feel unwelcome in their community for being who they are even though they’ve done nothing wrong. 

Gutierrez believes that marriage equality is a fundamental human right and that it is a controversial topic the nation faces.  

“Religious belief can be used as a scapegoat for discrimination,” he said. 

According to Americans United, a cake-maker in Colorado and a wedding photographer in Oregon both denied services to same-sex couples using their religion as justification, alluding to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993.  

April Pate, a kinesiology major and member of the UTEP Baptist Student Ministry, explained that Christians do believe that homosexuality is wrong, but that it is like any other sin.  

“There are a lot of Christians that go around saying that homosexuals are going to hell and, I mean, that’s true, but technically everyone is destined for hell, too,” Pate said. “Adulterers are going to hell, people that lust after things are going to hell, all of us, that’s why the free gift of Jesus Christ who died for all our sins covers that.” 

Pate said that the LGBTQ community should be respectful in the way that they react to the venue’s decisions. According to Rodriguez, opponents of Grace Gardens have threatened to destroy the property. 

“Those who don’t agree with our views are constantly spewing words of hate towards us and even threatened our lives,” Rodriguez said. 

Crista Mack, a digital media production student, said that Rodriguez refusing to host wedding services for queer couples is at her discretion if the law allows it. 

“I come from a law enforcement background, I was a special agent for 20 years, so the law is black and white to me,” Mack said. “Unfortunately, some of these legalities aren’t fair or morally and ethically sound. Most of these laws stem from a different time.” 

Mack is currently working on a documentary about the struggles of the LGBTQ community with religion. She said that it will address their fears when it comes to going to church and God. 

In the recent 86th Texas legislative session, Senator Charles Perry introduced Senate Bill 17, which is “expected to encourage and embolden licensed professionals to refuse to serve individuals due to religious objections to their identities, and to discourage licensing agencies from punishing those licensed professionals for such behavior,” according to Snopes, a fact-checking website. 

The bill did not reach the governor’s desk and was left pending in committee. 

Bryan Mena may be reached at [email protected]