News (USA)

Iowa venue that refuses gay weddings sues Civil Rights Commission

GRIMES, Iowa — The owners of a popular Iowa wedding venue have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Civil Rights Commission in response to a complaint against them for refusing to host same-sex weddings.

Görtz Haus Gallery owners Betty and Richard Odgaard filed the suit claiming that attempts by the Civil Rights Commission “to force the Odgaards to host events in violation of their religious beliefs” constitute a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Gortz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa.
Gortz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa.

The Odgaard’s are the subject of a complaint by Lee Stafford and his partner, who said in August they were discriminated against when the Odgaard’s learned they were a gay couple and refused to host their wedding.

Betty Odgaard said she and her husband, who are Mennonite, operate the business based on their religious principles and refuse to allow weddings for same-sex couples.

“That decision is based on our religious beliefs. We want to honor that. We want people to know that is our stand that comes from our faith, our convictions. I think we should just stand by that no matter what,” said Odgaard.

The couple filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, alleging that as a public venue, the Görtz Haus cannot discriminate based on religion.

But now, the Odgaards are fighting back, reported the Des Moines Register.

Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Odgaards contend that forcing them to host gay weddings “in violation of their religious beliefs” would also be a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The suit alleges that the Odgaards “may be exposed to financial punishment and other forms of official coercion” by the commission, but so far there have not been specific punitive action, according to Becket Fund Spokeswoman Emily Hardman.

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Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement, “An individual should not be prohibited from enjoying basic freedoms because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”

“The Gortz Haus is a public accommodation, not a religious institution,” she said. “Because the Odgaards offer a service to the public – and that service includes the use of their facilities for civil marriages and receptions – they cannot and should not deny this service to someone based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity according to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.”

Since news broke that they were denying same-sex weddings, the Odgaards said they have been subjected to “hateful and threatening email messages, Internet postings and phone calls” accusing them of bigotry and discrimination.

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