A Mennonite couple in Iowa who declined to host a gay wedding at their business have reached a settlement to dismiss discrimination litigation. To avoid further controversy, they will no longer pursue business connected to weddings for any couples.
Betty Görtz-Odgaard and Richard Odgaard, owners of Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, turned away Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars in August 2013 when they learned they wanted to use the former Lutheran church for a same-sex wedding.
The couple filed a suit with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission seeking monetary damages on the basis of discrimination. The Odgaards then worked with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to file a countersuit against the commission in October 2013, claiming their religious freedom was endangered.
In December 2014, the Odgaards agreed to pay the couple $5,000 to settle the civil rights complaint. The Des Moines Register reported the settlement does not attribute any wrongdoing to the Odgaards, though it does stipulate that they agree sexual orientation cannot be a basis for denying business services.
The gallery is a bistro, floral shop, frame shop and wedding facility that used to host more than a dozen weddings a year — “a large part of our business,” Betty Görtz-Odgaard said.
A member of Des Moines Mennonite Church, Görtz-Odgaard said by telephone Feb. 4 that she received hateful correspondence and the Görtz Haus lost business from people boycotting.
“We did have supporters, yes, but interestingly enough they weren’t from the Mennonite community,” she said. “Some of the comments after your last article were pretty hurtful on the blogs. . . . I know things are changing, but I still feel the Bible hasn’t changed.”
The couple continues to feel their freedom of religion has been encroached and that changing their viewpoint won’t be the answer.
“Just because culture has made it OK, even in many of our churches, does not mean it is OK,” she said. “Unless we conform to what society’s now telling us is OK, our religious liberties are being stripped.”
Görtz-Odgaard said letters poured in from across the U.S. thanking the couple for taking a stand. The response has inspired the Odgaards to look into advocacy on the national level.
“We’re both at retirement age, and it’s time for us to slow down anyway,” she said. “I think God is leading us in another direction, one to speak out on what we think is God’s original design. So we’re going to spend some of our retirement years doing that.”