Another Christian wedding industry business is facing potential legal action over its owners’ belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Dick and Betty Odgaard run The Görtz Haus Gallery, a popular spot in Grimes, Iowa, for wedding ceremonies. But the Odgaards declined to rent it to two men for their wedding ceremony, saying they could not in good conscience host the event.
“To us, [marriage] is a sacrament” that exists only “between a man and woman,” Betty Odgaard said. She said she was happy to work with the couple and willing to let them use the gallery for everything but the actual exchange of vows.
But the gay couple filed a legal complaint before the Iowa Human Rights Commission. They said the business was a public venue that must allow couples to use it regardless of their sexual orientation or the business owners’ beliefs.
Several businesses have faced similar retaliation for their beliefs about same-sex marriage. Gay couples have charged businesses providing wedding cakes, flowers, and photography with violating “anti-discrimination” statutes. Several have faced fines or court orders to work with gay couples.
Although churches have yet to face legal challenges for not conducting or allowing their buildings to be used for same-sex wedding ceremonies, one Utah businessman believes they soon will be.
According to Deseret News, Jonathan Johnson, executive vice chairman of the online retailer Overstock.com, has started a movement to protect churches from lawsuits by people demanding their services. He has proposed an amendment to the Utah constitution that would prohibit requiring a religious organization to “solemnize, officiate in, or recognize any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its beliefs.”
Johnson said he is fine with the state defining marriage how it chooses, but is worried about recent court rulings that continue to interpret “equal protection” in favor of gay rights: “At the end of the day, when equal protection and First Amendment free exercise of religion rights butt up against each other, then churches should be able to practice what they preach and believe.”
The Utah legislature seems to support his amendment so far. “I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is chairman of the state Democratic Party and gay. “No sane person that I know of wants to coerce or force any religion to perform any ceremony that they are not comfortable with.”
To get the amendment on the ballot next year, Johnson will have to persuade both chambers of the Utah legislature to support it. He had wanted to include businesses in the amendment’s protective language but feared that might hinder its chances for success.
As word of his efforts have spread, traditional marriage supporters in five other states have contacted him about launching similar efforts in their legislatures.