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Iowa venue settles bias complaint filed by gay couple, will discontinue all weddings

Iowa venue settles bias complaint filed by gay couple, will discontinue all weddings
Görtz Haus owners Betty and Richard Odgaard
Görtz Haus owners Betty and Richard Odgaard Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

GRIMES, Iowa — The owners of a gallery and bistro who refused to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony at their central Iowa business have stopped doing weddings altogether.

Betty and Richard Odgaard said Wednesday they have settled a complaint filed by the two gay men who were seeking to get married at the Görtz Haus in Grimes for $5,000, the Des Moines Register reported. The Odgaards also dropped their civil rights lawsuit against Iowa authorities.

Lee Stafford and Jared Ellers filed their civil rights complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, saying the Görtz Haus could not discriminate based on religion since the former church is a public venue.

The Odgaards said the gift shop and bistro have always served gays and lesbians, but that providing a space for the wedding would have violated their religious beliefs as Mennonites.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since April 2009.

The lawsuit against the commission that the Odgaards dropped said their religious freedoms were being violated. But with the settlement, they agreed that they could not discriminate against people based on sexual orientation, a provision that led them to stop hosting all weddings.

“Our faith hasn’t changed,” Betty Odgaard said. “Of course, it’s kind of a crushing blow because that’s a major part of our business and weddings are so absolutely gorgeous in that place.”

The Görtz Haus typically hosted 15 to 20 weddings each year, Betty Odgaard said, adding that she and her husband made the decision to drop weddings in order to avoid future discrimination lawsuits.

Donna Red Wing, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, said she respects the couple’s religious beliefs.

“I think it’s sad that people have to make a decision like that,” she said. “I’m really sad that their beautiful facility is no longer going to have any weddings at all, but if they’re not going to allow same-gender weddings, they really can’t allow any.”

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