Iowa Venue Refuses to Host Gay Wedding

Despite the state's marriage equality and antidiscrimination laws, the Mennonite owners of The Gortz Haus say they have the right to refuse service to gay couples based on their religious beliefs.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

August 08 2013 4:16 PM ET

Owners at The Gortz Haus in Grimes, Iowa, refused to serve as the venue for a gay couple's wedding, citing their religious beliefs, according to KCCI News in Des Moines.

Lee Stafford and his fiancé, Jared, were scrambling to find a location to host their wedding after the Hotel Patee closed, and they thought they'd hit the jackpot with the Gortz Haus. The couple says they toured the venue and were ready to strike a deal when Dick Odgaard, one of the owners, asked Lee if they were planning a gay wedding. When Stafford replied in the affirmative, Odgaard reportedly said "I can't take your money and I don't do things for free," according to Stafford's interview with KCCI. 

The local news network also spoke with co-owner Betty Odgaard, who said her Mennonite beliefs preclude her and her husband from serving gay and lesbian couples. 

"It's not from an angry place," she told KCCI. "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."

But Stafford doesn't believe the owners are motivated solely by religious conviction. 

"The fact is, he discriminated against us based on our sexual orientation," said Stafford. "Iowa code says if you have a public accommodation, you can't discriminate based on sexual orientation."

Iowa has embraced marriage equality since the state Supreme Court ruled it must extend the freedom to marry to all Iowan adults in 2009. The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination in areas of housing, employment, public accommodation, and education on the basis of race, national origin, religion, disability status, age, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, according to the state's Civil Rights Commission

Stafford says he and his fiancé have found a different place to hold their upcoming nuptials, but they are considering filing a lawsuit against the Gortz Haus. 

Odgaard told KCCI that she and her husband have received hate-mail and threats since news about their rejection of the couple broke on Tuesday. The Gortz Haus' Facebook and Yelp pages have both been inundated with posts from potential and former customers vowing to boycott the art gallery, bistro, and florist over the owners' antigay views.

The statewide equality organization issued a statement on the incident today. "One Iowa respects and appreciates that Mr. and Mrs. Odgaard are Iowans with deeply held religious beliefs and convictions," said Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa. "At the same time, we need to separate our respect for the Odgaards' religious beliefs from the Iowa civil rights code. While religious institutions are protected by religious freedoms, it's important to note that the Gortz Haus is a public venue. It cannot be confused with a religious institution. The Odgaards provide a service to the public that must accommodate all Iowans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community." 

Tags: Religion

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