What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’m not big on “Hallmark holidays,” but if Valentine’s Day (or “co-opting Valentine’s Day”) is your thing, I hope you enjoyed February 14. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.
I wanted to catch up on news from a couple of weeks ago, which may continue to reverberate during the Republican Iowa caucus campaign. The owners of Görtz Haus agreed to settle with a gay couple who had wanted to get married at their venue in Grimes. Betty and Richard Odgaard are Mennonites who don’t believe in same-sex marriage. Since the law doesn’t allow them to discriminate against LGBT couples, they have decided not to hold any weddings at their place of business. They also dropped their own doomed-to-fail lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Clips with background on the episode and reaction to its resolution are after the jump.
Social conservatives are outraged over what they see as an assault on religious freedom. Both talk radio host Steve Deace and Bob Vander Plaats’ organization The FAMiLY Leader have indicated that the Görtz Haus controversy will be a salient issue in the coming presidential campaign.
What these folks can’t acknowledge is that no one is forcing the Odgaards or anyone else to approve of or “celebrate” gay weddings. Many of us have ethical or religious objections to some marriages; for instance, if the couple began dating while married to other people, or if one person appears to be marrying solely for money, or if there is a large age gap between the spouses. Plenty of Jews and Christians would disapprove of my own interfaith marriage. No one is demanding that the whole world applaud every marriage, only that the religious beliefs of some don’t interfere with the civil rights of others.
Additionally, it’s important to note that no house of worship in Iowa has ever been forced to hold same-sex weddings. If the Odgaards ran a church, they would be fully within their rights to refuse to serve LGBT couples. Görtz Haus is a for-profit business, subject to the same civil rights statutes as other public venues.
The Görtz Haus controversy began in August 2013, when Dick and Betty Odgaard refused to let two men book their venue for a wedding. Lee Stafford and Jared Ellers filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
Acting on bad legal advice, the Odgaards struck back in October 2013:
Represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Odgaards are contending that if the [Iowa Civil Rights] commission attempts “to force the Odgaards to host events in violation of their religious beliefs,” it would be a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
The suit says that the Odgaards “may be exposed to financial punishment and other forms of official coercion” by the commission, but so far there have not been specific punitive action, said Becket Fund Spokeswoman Emily Hardman. […]
The suit says the Odgaards received “hateful and threatening email messages, Internet postings and phone calls,” in the days after denying the same-sex wedding, and provides copies of emails that accused the Odgaards of bigotry and discrimination.
The backlash against the Odgaards was “devastating,” and the business has since suffered from a boycott, Betty Odgaard, 61, told The Des Moines Register. “It really set me back. I was amazed at the amount of hatred, this kind of ridiculous hatred. And they made me a hateful person, and I am not. I cried for two weeks and didn’t stop.”
Odgaard said she has gay friends, and has employed and served gays and lesbians at her business. She denies that by not allowing a gay wedding, she was being discriminatory.
“I have nothing against gays and lesbians. Nothing,” Odgaard 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.”
The Odgaards never had a prayer of winning that case. Last month, they agreed to a settlement. They paid $5,000 to Stafford and Ellers, who had wanted to get married at Görtz Haus. The men said they would donate the settlement money to the non-profit Iowa Safe Schools, which advocates against bullying and for acceptance of LGBTQ youth.
Görtz Haus is changing its service offerings to avoid future litigation:
“Our faith hasn’t changed,” [Betty Odgaard] said. “Of course, it’s kind of a crushing blow because that’s a major part of our business and weddings are so absolutely gorgeous in that place.”
Odgaard said the Gortz Haus has typically hosted 15 to 20 weddings on a yearly basis. Additionally, the couple will stop catering and providing flowers to all weddings. The couple made the decision voluntarily because continuing to hold weddings could make them a target for future discrimination lawsuits, Odgaard said.
Donna Red Wing, executive director of LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, said she respects the Odgaards’ religious beliefs, but was disappointed to hear about the decision to stop hosting weddings. It was the correct decision, though, if the couple remains unwilling to host ceremonies for same-sex couples, as Iowa law bars businesses that offer services to the public from discrimination, she said.
“I think it’s sad that people have to make a decision like that,” she said. “I’m really sad that their beautiful facility is no longer going to have any weddings at all, but if they’re not going to allow same-gender weddings, they really can’t allow any.”
The FAMiLY Leader, an organization headed by Bob Vander Plaats that is influential on the Iowa GOP’s social conservative wing, released this statement when news broke of the settlement:
It is a sad day in America when businesses suffer due to not performing a function that violates their religious conscience. This further illustrates the left’s direct assault on all of those who disagree with their extreme agenda. This is why The FAMiLY LEADER will be actively searching for candidates in 2016 who embrace the highest standard, which is the “Law of Nature and of Nature’s God”. And who will fully defend and advocate for our First Amendment Rights of religious liberty. Truly, a sad day in Iowa. As we have stated frequently – for those who desire to stay out of this debate, you will be made to care!
Talk show host Steve Deace wrote on the conservative Town Hall website,
Every Republican candidate for president should quickly make a household name of a Grimes, Iowa business recently bullied into submission by the Rainbow Jihad. […]
This begs the question: is there any social force more powerful today than the homosexual temper tantrum?
Deace hit on two of my pet peeves in one column. First, he doesn’t understand that business owners don’t get to discriminate based on religious beliefs. Second, he misuses the phrase “begs the question,” which refers to
a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.
Deace should have written, “This raises the question: is there any social force more powerful today than the homosexual temper tantrum?” Actually, he should have avoided that whole point, because it makes him sound deranged. But getting back to his column for Town Hall:
The first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses have picked the last four general election winners, and present an opportunity for God-fearing candidates of Constitutional integrity to make the cause of Gortz Haus Gallery the cause of us all.
By the way, how come the same Rainbow Jihad targeting Christian businesses to acknowledge their “relationship” aren’t demanding Jewish deli owners handle and provide non-Kosher foods for their customers? I’m asking for a friend.
Vander Plaats made a similar point in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register.
[S]hould the owners of a kosher meat locker be forced by state law to abandon their Jewish faith and commence the slaughtering and processing of non-kosher animals?
The analogy is flawed, because no one is saying business owners can’t decide which services to provide. They just can’t discriminate against protected classes when providing those services. So a Jewish owner of a meat locker or deli can restrict the offerings to kosher food but cannot (for example) sell kosher food only to Jews and not to Christians.
Here’s the key point of Deace’s column for presidential candidates who want to reach the thousands of conservatives who listen regularly to his show.
This is not a time for the Romneys of the world to refuse acts of solidarity as simple as eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich. Much more than that will be required. A Rainbow Jihad is truly at hand and warriors are needed. […]
The Iowa Caucuses are one of the greatest grassroots civic megaphones this country has at its disposal. It just so happens that’s where I live and have unique access to the candidates and the process.
Therefore, I can promise you this: I will use that megaphone to make sure the Republican presidential field will be asked what they know about stories like the Odgaard’s, and what they plan on doing about them if elected.
Refusal to answer will be taken as surrender. Generic talking points answers will be taken as negotiating the terms of surrender. Only specifics will do when your very way of life is at stake.