Same-sex couple claims Charlottesville-based photographer discriminated against them

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) -- A same-sex couple from Northern Virginia said they were discriminated against by a Charlottesville-based wedding photographer because of their sexual orientation.

The owners of Gardenia said they refused to work with them because of their "beliefs."

Paula Fries and Katie Brown, a same-sex couple from Burke, have spent countless hours searching for the perfect wedding photographer before their wedding day in October.

They plan to wed in Orange, and looked at Charlottesville vendors since it is closer.

In an exclusive interview with Gray TV affiliate WCAV, the couple said Gardenia was the perfect match at first.

"They were a somewhat newer company and had a few good reviews," said Fries. "I watched some of their videos and liked their work."

Gardenia is owned and operated by Brett and Alex Sandridge.

Brown and Fries said before going too far with wedding vendors, they would let them know they would be accommodating a same-sex couple.

It is exactly what the couple did when they were corresponding with Gardenia, stated in an email thread obtained by WCAV.

There appear to be no problems between Gardenia, Brown, and Fries at first, and there appeared to be a lot of excitement between them about the transaction.

The company eventually sent them an invoice for a down payment of $625 and a contract to sign.

However, Gardenia backed out before a contract was signed, so there is nothing legally binding between Gardenia and the couple.

"I put that in every email correspondence I had with vendors we reached out to during this wedding process, so they knew right off the back," said Fries.

Everything took an unexpected turn within hours of Gardenia sending the couple a contract when the owners sent them one final email; which included the following statement:

"We have decided that we would not be the best match to film your wedding," said Brett Sandridge in an email to Fries and Brown. "We are just really wanting to stay true to our beliefs."

Fries and Brown said at first, they were outraged with the company's response.

"It felt like the rug was pulled out from under us," said Brown. "As soon as they sent the contract and PayPal invoice we closed out communication channels with everyone else."

This controversy comes just a month after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

However, the ruling was narrow and did not specify whether if other vendors such as photographers could do the same.

"It demonstrates to me the value system some people still have and it makes me so sad," said Brown. "It feels like we're not on equal footing with heterosexual couples."

Fries posted a copy of the email from Gardenia on her Facebook page; which quickly went viral.

Gardenia has received backlash in the aftermath, and the company's Facebook page was deactivated Saturday because of several negative online reviews.

Fries and Brown said they are thankful for the support.

"As the day progressed, it turned into people we didn't know," said Fries. "The outpouring of love we received, people offering to do our video services for free; it gives me goosebumps just talking about it."

Fries and Brown said the big picture is same-sex couples are still being treated like second-class citizens.

"For those who say religion is a reason for why the discriminate and oppress a certain subset of people, is that really a good belief system to begin with?" asked Brown.

WCAV attempted to reach out to Gardenia multiple times for comment on this story but did not receive a response by press time.