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Iowa business defends denial of same-sex wedding

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 10:59 a.m. CST

GRIMES (AP) — The owners of a private event venue have filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, claiming that any attempt by the commission to force the couple behind the business to host a same-sex wedding violates their religious beliefs.

Betty and Richard Odgaard filed the suit Monday in connection with their decision in August to deny a same-sex couple from holding their wedding at the Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes. The Mennonite owners said the wedding violated their religious beliefs, The Des Moines Register reported.

The couple said if they’re forced to host such events, it would be a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

There is no specific punitive action in the case, said the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending the Odgaards. But the suit said the Odgaards “may be exposed to financial punishment and other forms of official coercion” by the commission.

Lee Stafford and his partner, Jared, filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and claimed the business could not discriminate based on religion because the former church is a public venue. The Görtz Haus serves as a gallery, bistro and private event venue.

Betty Odgaard said her business has suffered from a boycott following the denial, and she and her husband received threatening email messages, Internet postings and phone calls. She said their denial was not discriminatory.

“I have nothing against gays and lesbians. Nothing,” she said. “I just personally believe that a marriage is between one man and one woman. I don’t condemn or judge anybody else for their beliefs and how they live their life.”

Donne Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, a gay and lesbian rights group, said an individual should not be prohibited from basic freedoms because of someone else’s religious beliefs.

“One Iowa absolutely respects the faith traditions and the deeply held convictions of Mr. and Mrs. Odgaard,” she said in a statement. “However, the Gortz Haus is a public accommodation, not a religious institution. 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.”