GRIMES, Iowa — A Mennonite couple that decided to discontinue hosting all weddings at their church-turned-art gallery after they became the subject of a discrimination lawsuit two years ago has now announced that they are closing their doors due to lack of sufficient income.
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 has been a popular location for couples to tie the knot.
According to reports, Lee Stafford and his partner Jared visited the The Gortz Haus Gallery in 2013 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 began receiving hateful 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?”
Stafford and his partner soon 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. The Odgaards then filed a counter lawsuit against the Civil Rights Commission in an effort to avoid being forced to host same-sex ceremonies against their faith.
In December, the Odgaards agreed to a settlement, paying the homosexual men $5,000 for the incident and agreeing not to discriminate in the future—although the settlement also allowed them to deny any wrongdoing. They also dropped their counter suit.
However, the Odgaards also discontinued hosting weddings at their facility altogether because of the matter.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Betty said. “We would be targets.”
She told the Daily Signal this week that in the months that followed, the business suffered because of those who hated their Christian stance.
“They didn’t come in because the people who are against us are more vocal than the people who are in our court,” Odgaard explained.
The harm done to the Gallery sent Betty into depression, for which she sought professional counseling.
“I’m a melancholy artist and no stranger to depression, but this took me down to the darkest I’ve ever been before,” she said.
Now, the Odgaards have decided to close their business altogether in August due to insufficient income.
“We have to look on the positive side,” Betty said. “But just telling our family what we are doing, telling vendors the decision that we’ve made—it’s been very tough.”
However, the couple has now launched a new ministry called “God’s Original Design,” which “provides a platform for God-fearing people to stand tall and proud in defense of God’s Original Design, and to give a voice to the ‘silent majority.'” They have created flyers in support of biblical marriage for Christians to print out and distribute in their communities.
The Odgaards hope that the gallery will be purchased and turned again into what it once was—a church.