The Star Barn Village at Stone Gables Estates is one of the most unique wedding venues in Pennsylvania — one that has been frequented by myriad guests.
But LGBTQ guests who seek this idyllic spot for their own weddings need not apply.
Catholic owner David Abel adheres strictly to the Bible when it comes to marriage.
The Star Barn Village website does not make clear that the venue will honor only weddings that unite men with women.
It’s now the latest venue in the LGBTQ battle to access accommodations and services.
Another business owner has planned a protest of the historic architectural venue in quaint Elizabethtown, Lancaster County.
Erica Millner, owner of MIO Studio in Lancaster, is herself a married lesbian. She said the Star Barn’s policies are discriminatory and that she believes all people should be able to hold their wedding at the historic venue. She organized a protest that was expected to take place April 11, when Discover Lancaster, a local tourism group, was scheduled to hold an event at Star Barn Village.
Millner said in an interview with Lancaster’s WGAL, “Maybe they’ll see the people — their neighbors, their friends, maybe family members of theirs — standing out front and protesting for what they believe in: That they’re being discriminated against by coming to The Star Barn.”
Joel Cliff, Discover Lancaster’s communications director, also addressed the controversy.
“We regret if our choice of The Star Barn for this event has inadvertently caused pain or misunderstanding within any element of our tourism community or beyond. As an industry, our aim is to welcome all and promote all. The same is true for this event.”
The Star Barn Village is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. The series of buildings was erected in the 19th Century on what is now a 275-acre estate. As depicted on its website, the breathtaking setting also boasts a dramatic interior and extraordinary charm.
The venue also offers “vegetarian, vegan, ethnic and international specialties.”
Abel, Star Barn’s owner, declined to speak directly to PGN, but issued a statement.
“No persons will be discriminated against; however, we ask people to respect that we have core tenants [sic] in our faith and our beliefs and we cannot participate in any event that would be in contradiction to those core tenants [sic] — one of them being marriage, which has been biblically based for thousands of years as being between a man and a woman.”
It turns out, those tenets are defined on The Star Barn Village website — if you know where to look.
In a section labeled “Core Values,” Abel details his beliefs: “God-Honoring: We believe everything we have is a gift from God that we are to use to honor him, through our activities, events and endeavors. No event that directly contradicts the Word of God will be permitted to take place on the premises.”
The Star Barn’s mission statement adds that in 43 years of running the business, Abel and his wife Tierney “have never discriminated against anyone.”
Steven Dinnocenti disagrees. The retired educator, who is gay and married, said he attended many events at The Star Barn. But on March 19, Dinnocenti discovered Abel’s policy and posted about it on Facebook.
That post went viral. “Never again will I step on (their) grounds,” wrote Dinnocenti. “What one does not know is the blatant discrimination they have toward the LGBTQ community. … I for one will not be attending any wedding or party at this venue knowing they discriminate against people.
“Discrimination is discrimination. It’s like hate is hate. Anybody should be allowed to walk in anywhere to purchase anything. That is what a capitalistic society is,” Dinnocenti added. “When you get the door slammed in your face it’s offensive. It’s wrong. You are saying our money is not as good as the next person’s.”
Abel has said he is not discriminatory against anyone, and that there is no law that prevents him from restricting his venue to heterosexual couples.
The Star Barn mission statement, however, appears to deliver a contradictory message. Under “Family,” it states: “We will not tolerate discrimination against any one person.” But then continues, “We provide marriage-related services as ordained by God’s Word, the Holy Bible, that are consistent with the written truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
Dani Williams didn’t read the part about core values when she and her fiancée were looking at the website for a local wedding venue. (She asked that we not use her real name.) She and her fiancée work in the area and feared backlash against their own small business. “People are taking sides,” she said.
“The place is just gorgeous. Anyone would want to get married there,” Williams added. “You live around here, you always see the wedding parties in the spring and summer, everyone so happy. It seems so romantic. Such a great place to start your life together.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a federal law that protects interests in religious freedom — in two recent cases: the 2013 Hobby Lobby case involving employer-paid health insurance that includes contraception; and the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop case in which a Colorado baker refused to make cakes for gay weddings.