GRIMES, Iowa — An Iowa art gallery and bistro that closed this summer following the filing of a homosexual discrimination lawsuit against its Mennonite owners will reopen as a church this Sunday.
“If it can’t be a gallery anymore, this is the next best thing,” Betty Odgaard told the Des Moines Register. “We’re pretty tickled.”
As previously reported, up until August of this year, Odgaard and her husband Dick ran 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 had 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. 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.”
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.
The Odgaards additionally discontinued hosting weddings at their facility altogether out of concern that they would now become a target, but soon had to close because of financial hardship.
Betty Odgaard told the Daily Signal that in the months that followed the suit, the business suffered because of those who hated their Christian stance. She said that she fell 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 explained.
The Odgaards have since sold the building to Harvest Bible Church, an evangelical, non-denominational assembly that has been using a temporary meeting place for the past two years. The church which will hold its first service at the facility on Sunday.
Pastor Ryan Jorgenson told the Des Moines Register that he supports the Odgaards, who joined the congregation nine months ago.
“We fully support the stand that the Odgaards have made with their building and with their business,” he stated. “But our biggest thing by far is we want to be known as a church that loves Jesus. We preach and teach the Bible fully. We want to be a blessing to our community.”