The owners of an art gallery in Iowa filed a lawsuit against the state’s Civil Rights Commission after being threatened with punitive action for declining a request to plan, facilitate and host a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Betty and Richard Odgaard, a Mennonite couple, own and operate the Görtz Haus Gallery, a 77-year-old building that used to be a church. They filed the suit in Polk County District Court Monday.
“The Odgaards welcome all customers into the Gallery, regardless of their race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability,” the suit states. “The Odgaards cannot, however, host activities or display art that would violate their religious beliefs.”
Betty Odgaard was born and raised a Mennonite. When she and her husband founded the Görtz Haus Gallery (Görtz is Betty’s maiden name), they made sure to keep the old church elements, such as the stained glass windows depicting Biblical images.
With its religious decorations and architectural elements, the gallery has served as a place to express the Odgaards’ faith for over a decade. One of their favorite ways to do that is hosting wedding ceremonies in the old church’s sanctuary. They personally help plan and host every wedding, and are both at the gallery from morning until night for each wedding ceremony.
Lee Stafford told KCCI 8 News in August that he and his fiance, Jared, had toured the Görtz Haus before their planned nuptials. Once the Odgaards realized the event was a same-sex wedding, they declined the couple’s business, saying it was against their beliefs.
“We hire and serve gays and lesbians, and have close friends who are gays and lesbians,” explains Betty Odgaard. “And we respect that good people disagree with our religious conviction against hosting a ceremony that violates our faith. We simply ask that the government not force us to abandon our faith or punish us for it.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the Odgaards. Emily Hardman, the Becket Fund’s communications director, says the case involves “individual freedom.”
“Every Iowan should be concerned that bureaucrats are forcing Betty and Richard to personally host a religious ceremony against their religious convictions,” she says.
The Polk County District Court ruled in favor of six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in 2007. A unanimous Iowa Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision in April 2009, making it the third U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.