GRIMES, Iowa — A Mennonite couple in Iowa has filed suit against the state’s Civil Rights Commission as they fear pending punishment for declining to host a same-sex ‘wedding’ at their business.
As previously reported, Dick and Betty Odgaard operate The Gortz Haus Gallery, a bistro, floral and arts shop, and wedding facility in Grimes, Iowa. The location formerly served as a Lutheran church for over 60 years, and is now a popular location for couples to tie the knot.
According to reports, Lee Stafford and his partner Jared recently visited the The Gortz Haus Gallery to obtain information about using the facility for their upcoming ceremony. However, when Dick Odgaard realized that the men were seeking to use the premises to host a homosexual “wedding,” he informed them that the venue does not host same-sex ceremonies. His wife Betty explained to local television station KCCI that the company policy reflects their Christian faith.
“That decision is based on our religious beliefs,” she stated. “And we want to honor that. We want people to know that is our stand, [which] comes from our faith and convictions, and I think we should stand by those [convictions] no matter what.”
Betty also told reporters that she advised the men that she and her husband would be willing to provide other services, such as offering flowers or cake, but that Stafford and his partner could not exchange vows on the premises.
“I would serve them in every other way; we simply don’t want to take part. … It just comes down to that final line of taking their vows in our facility,” she told reporter Billy Hallowell. “I do not hate these people and they have the right to do what they want to do under the law and in humanity.”
Same-sex “marriage” was legalized in Iowa in 2009 via a unanimous decision by the state Supreme Court.
After word of the incident at The Gortz Haus Gallery became public knowledge, the couple states that they began receiving harsh and angry emails.
“You are mean, rude, selfish, [expletive] racist sons of [expletive] from Hell,” one message stated. “[Expletive] your God. [Expletive] your religion.”
“Betty, you’re very old and almost dead,” another email read. “How do you both feel knowing that America and the world will be a better place without you?”
“I’m a Christian and I’m ashamed of you,” a third claimed. “I know [who] Christ is. … He ate with prostitutes. … You just prostitute His word to promote your bigotry.”
Then, Stafford and his partner filed a formal complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, alleging that The Gortz Haus Gallery violated state law by declining to facilitate their same-sex ceremony.
“[They] discriminated against us based on our sexual orientation, and Iowa code says that if you have a public accommodation, you can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation,” Stafford told reporters.
But now, through the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, the Odgaards have filed a counter lawsuit against the Civil Rights Commission, which may demand that the couple pay punitive damages for declining to host the ceremony.
“The Odgaards adhere to the traditional Mennonite belief that marriage is a religious covenant ordained by God that can only exist between a man and a woman,” the suit outlines. “[P]ublicly associating with a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs would send a message to others who share their beliefs, including some of their employees, that those beliefs are untrue or unworthy of devotion, and thereby cause those others to sin.”
“The Odgaards may be exposed to financial punishment and other forms of official coercion for refusing to abandon their religious convictions to comply with the ICRC’s dictates,” it further explains. “The Odgaards have always intended to use the gallery consistent with their religious beliefs. They would sooner shut down the gallery than violate those beliefs.”
Following the incident, the two men found another location willing to host their ceremony. The Odgaards state that there are over 50 wedding venues in the county to utilize for events.
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