An art gallery and bistro whose owners attracted controversy for refusing to host same-sex wedding ceremonies plans to close permanently, its owners announced Monday.
A Des Moines couple filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in 2013 after Dick and Betty Odgaard, owners of the Gortz Haus, refused to let them rent the gallery housed in a 77-year-old former Lutheran church for their wedding. The Odgaards argued that same-sex marriage was against their Mennonite faith.
In a settlement last year, the Odgaards agreed to pay the couple $5,000 and to not discriminate against same-sex couples. In lieu of that agreement, the Odgaards announced in January that they would no longer host any weddings at the Gortz Haus out of fear they could become a target for discrimination lawsuits.
The gallery was no longer financially viable as a business without the money from weddings, Betty Odgaard said in a news release. The release said a local church congregation is interested in moving into the space.
"It's wrong that Iowa did this to us," Betty Odgaard said. "The gallery was our home away from home. But even though Iowa was wrong, we're more certain than ever that what we did was right. We wouldn't have chosen this path, but we're honored to bear witness to God's goodness throughout the nearly two-year ordeal that Iowa has forced us to walk."
The Odgaards were heralded by social conservatives who applauded them for sticking to their religious beliefs over business concerns. They were represented by attorneys through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that litigates nationwide "to protect the free expression of all faiths," according to its mission statement.
On a Saturday campaign stop in Johnston, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz said the Odgaards were victims of "liberal fascism."
"Today, the modern Democratic party has decided their devotion to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states is so unforgiving that there is no longer room for defending religious liberty," Cruz said.
Still, Iowa law prevents any business offering services to the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Legislators added sexual orientation to the state's civil rights law in 2007.
Donna Red Wing, executive director of LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, said in January that the Odgaard's decision to stop hosting weddings was unfortunate, but that the owners needed to follow the law. It was the right move if they would continue to not allow same-sex ceremonies, 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."
Betty Odgaard said Monday that she and her husband made the decision to close a week ago. There's no exact date for when the gallery will close, but it possibly could happen sometime in August, she said.
The Odgaards have founded a nonprofit ministry called God's Original Design Ministry that will focus on advocating for "traditional" one-man, one-woman marriage, the release said.
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