Free to Believe

Betty and Richard Odgaard

Görtz Haus: Grimes, Iowa

Betty and Richard Odgaard, the Mennonite owners of Görtz Haus Gallery, declined to facilitate a court-created same-sex wedding ceremony and have faced punitive action by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. When the Grimes, Iowa couple founded Görtz Haus Gallery, they made sure to keep the 77-year-old church elements, such as the stained glass windows depicting Biblical images. They have called the Gallery their home away from home and used the restored space to display artwork, host wedding ceremonies, and offer related services including a bistro and a flower shop.

In August 2013, when Lee Stafford and Jared Ellers approached the Odgaards to request the venue for a same-sex marriage ceremony, the Odgaards declined to personally plan, host, and facilitate the ceremony because doing so would run counter to their beliefs.

In October 2013, Stafford and Ellers filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. On October 7, 2013, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit in Iowa state court, seeking protection for the Odgaards, from being forced to facilitate a religious ceremony that would violate their religious convictions.

“We hire and serve gays and lesbians, and have close friends who are gays and lesbians,” said Betty Odgaard.  “And we respect that good people disagree with our religious conviction against hosting a ceremony that violates our faith. We simply ask that the government not force us to abandon our faith or punish us for it.”

In December 2014, facing mounting legal fees, the Odgaards settled the complaint by the two men. Stafford and Ellers were awarded $5,000 and the Odgaards announced they were choosing to stop hosting all weddings.

“We are definitely making a sacrifice for our convictions. It affects the value of our business,” said Richard Odgaard, in an interview with Iowa's WHOTV. “We could either maintain a position to be at risk for future or subsequent claims of discrimination or we could get clear out of serving the wedding industry. That’s what we chose to do.”

"Our faith hasn't changed," Betty Odgaard noted in an interview with The Des Moines Register. "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."

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Related Content