A Mennonite couple in Iowa who declined to host a same-sex wedding at their business has filed a counter-lawsuit against the state’s Civil Rights Commission, fearing that the agency will make them pay financial damages and host the events.
In August, Dick and Betty Odgaard, who operate The Gortz Haus Gallery in Grimes, declined a request from Lee Stafford and his partner, Jared, to host a same-sex wedding.
"They did so because their religion forbids them from personally planning, facilitating or hosting wedding ceremonies not between one man and one woman," the counter-lawsuit says.
The gallery is a bistro, floral and arts shop, and a wedding facility. Betty Odgaard told local media at the time that she would be willing to provide the couple with flowers or cake, but exchanging vows on their premises was off limits, according to the Christian News Network.
Same-sex marriage was made legal in Iowa in 2009 after a state Supreme Court ruling, the site reports.
Stafford filed a complaint with Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission accusing the Odgaards of violating state law.
"[They] discriminated against us based on our sexual orientation. Iowa code says if you have a public accommodation, you can't discriminate based on sexual orientation,” Stafford told KCCI.
The Odgaards responded on Oct. 7 by filing the counter-lawsuit through the nonprofit Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty.
“The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is now seeking to force the Odgaards to plan, facilitate and host same-sex wedding ceremonies at the Gallery,” the counter-lawsuit says. “Publicly associating with a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs would send a message to others who share their beliefs, including some of their employees, that those beliefs are untrue or unworthy of devotion, and thereby cause those others to sin.”
Stafford and his partner have since found another location to host their same-sex wedding, the Christian News Network reports.