Mennonite Couple Refuses to Host Same-Sex Wedding; Files Lawsuit Against Iowa Civil Rights Commission

A Mennonite couple that owns an art gallery in Iowa has filed suit against the state's Civil Rights Commission over being threatened with punitive action for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their property.

Görtz Haus Gallery, a former church turned art gallery facility, filed a lawsuit Monday against the commission in Polk County District Court.

"The Odgaards welcome all customers into the Gallery, regardless of their race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability," reads the suit in part.

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"The Odgaards may be exposed to financial punishment and other forms of official coercion for refusing to abandon their religious convictions to comply with the ICRC's dictates."

The gallery is owned by Betty and Richard Odgaard, a Mennonite couple who consider same-sex marriage to be contrary to their religious beliefs. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing the Odgaards in court.

Emily Hardman, communications director for the Becket Fund, told The Christian Post that "the law should protect them from having" to host a ceremony contrary to their religious convictions.

"A claim was originally filed against Betty and Richard before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission," said Hardman.

"So now we are simply asking Iowa courts to intervene to keep the commission from forcing Betty and Richard to publicly violate their beliefs. Iowa's judiciary has a long history of robustly protecting individual rights and we hope that they will do the same for Betty and Richard."

The commission's acceptance of the complaint against Görtz Haus Gallery comes around the time that the ICRC successfully filed a lawsuit on behalf of a gay couple in Council Bluffs.

A jury awarded the gay couple $147,000 when the commission successfully argued a bias case regarding mistreatment at an apartment complex, reported KETV.

In August 2007, the state legalized same-sex marriage when the Iowa Supreme Court declared in Varnum v. Brien that laws banning the unions were unconstitutional. An attempt to appeal the decision in April 2009 failed.

Görtz Haus Gallery is not the first business in the United States to find itself in legal trouble due to refusing to provide services for a same-sex marriage.

In June, the Colorado Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against a Denver-based wedding cake company for its refusal to provide services to a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts.

In August, a New Mexico photography company was found guilty of violating the state's Human Rights Act when they refused to work for a gay couple's wedding ceremony.

CP asked Hardman if the advance of gay marriage legalization is coming at the expense of religious liberty.

"To the extent the law would force private religious business owners to violate their own religious beliefs, yes," said Hardman.

"The Odgaards have long hired and served gays and lesbians and are happy to continue doing so. They are asking only that they not be forced to facilitate a wedding ceremony against the religious beliefs."

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission declined to comment to The Christian Post about the case, citing pending litigation as the reason.

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