US couple who declined gay wedding will now close venue

A couple who declined to rent out their venue for a gay wedding in Iowa, USA, are now closing their business after being unwilling to go against their conscience.

Dick and Betty Odgaard said in 2013 that they could not allow two men to use the venue because it would go against their Mennonite beliefs.

Their decision to close came before the US Supreme Court’s ruling which imposes same-sex marriage across America.

Discriminate

Same-sex marriage was introduced in Iowa by a court ruling in 2009, and the Odgaards say state laws are the reason for their position.

“With the discrimination laws and the legality of same-sex marriage in this state, now you have to prove that you didn’t discriminate,” Dick said.

Betty commented: “I think if people in Iowa would have had a chance to vote on this, it would have never have been this way. People in Iowa are pretty conservative”.

The couple were supported by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – an organisation that works to protect the “free expression of all faiths”.

Ashers Baking Co

The Odgaards deny any discrimination, but agreed to a $5,000 settlement with the gay couple involved.

Following the case, they decided to stop hiring out their venue, which is also a café and art gallery, for all weddings.

The case has parallels with Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland which was recently sued for declining to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage campaign slogan. After it lost in court, Ashers limited the scope of its custom-designed cakes.

Trouble

Just 24 hours after the Odgaards said they could not host the marriage ceremony for Lee Stafford and his partner Jared, the same-sex couple filed a complaint through the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Despite a legal challenge of their own against the Commission, the Mennonite couple decided to stop all weddings at their venue.

Dick told the Daily Signal news website: “We knew that the business was going to be in trouble almost immediately”.

He added: “We had to get rid of the wedding business to avoid another complaint and possibly a higher penalty.”

Close down

They have now contacted their vendors to say that by the end of August they will close down all parts of their business.

The Odgaards are part of a congregation of the Mennonite Church USA. The organisation, which is made up of nearly 100,000 members, has its roots in Europe and is part of the anabaptist Christian tradition.

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