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Iowa bistro sues to deny access to gay couples

Timothy Kincaid

October 8th, 2013

The Görtz Haus Gallery operates a “bistro, art gallery, frame shoppe and floral shoppe” out of what used to be the St. Peter Lutheran Church in Grimes, IA. The bistro is in what was once the sanctuary and is an attractive setting that is occasionally rented out for weddings.

But when Lee Stafford wanted to rent out the bistro for his wedding to his fiance Jared, the owners, Betty and Richard Odgaard refused. And after Stafford filed a claim with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the Odgaard’s sued. They are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. (Quad City Times)

Emily Hardman, spokeswoman for the Becket Fund, said the organization doesn’t want to eliminate “sexual orientation” as a protected class in Iowa and said the Odgaards are opposed to hosting the ceremony because of their Mennonite beliefs.

“The Odgaards have long hired and served gays and lesbians, and are happy to serve all persons regardless of their sexual orientation,” Hardman wrote in an email. “The only remedy they are seeking is not to be forced by the government to host a religious ceremony that would violate their own beliefs. The Iowa Civil Rights Act supports this remedy, as it expressly states that the Act is not intended to force individuals to recognize same-sex marriage.”

I tend to err on the side of individual rights and I am no fan of non-discrimination laws in general. They tend to pit people against each other and the blurry line between my right to get what I want and your right to do what you want with your property, time and body tends to leave all sides feeling imposed upon.

But I’m having a hard time finding sympathy for the Odgaards. Their feelings of entitlement run far beyond the right to refuse service based on religious (or any other) convictions or beliefs. (HuffPo)

In an interview, Betty Odgaard defended her decision to turn away the couple, saying it came from “our faith, our convictions.”

“Can I have my beliefs without being ostracized for that? I think I have my right … to stand firm to my convictions and beliefs,” Odgaard, who said she and her husband have received threatening emails and calls in response to the news, noted.

Well, no, Betty. You can’t have your beliefs without being ostracized; that’s what ostracization is for. When your beliefs result in hurtful behavior to other and attitudes that society finds to be counter-productive, the right and proper response is to ostracize you. Or, perhaps, as a Mennonite you’d prefer the term ‘shunning’.

And then there’s all the quivering hurt about having to ‘host a religious ceremony’.

Nonsense.

This isn’t like Elain Photography where Elaine Huguenin would have had to physically participate in the event. Or one of those cake bakers who object to putting same-sex cake toppers atop their confectionary creation. It’s not even one of those bed-and-breakfast people who don’t want to be under the same roof as a couple of guys who are doing… you know… it!

It’s a bistro, a friggen room, Betty, and you don’t have to “host”. You don’t even have to be there. If you absolutely must have someone on the premises to make sure no one stills the artwork, you can turn that task over to one of those many gays and lesbians that you’ve hired.

And about that “religious ceremony”… who said it was religious?

Now maybe Lee and Jared wanted incense, blown shofars, latin incantations, the ubiquitous Whether Thou Goest sung badly by a relative and a sermon carefully distinguishing between Lutheranism and Calvinism, followed by saptapadi. But I’m guessing that if they were wanting a ‘religious ceremony’ then they would have chosen a religious venue. And whatever it is that they wanted, you can bet it wasn’t a Mennonite service, and since anything else is not kosher for her anyway it’s no skin off Betty’s nose.

Now I know that the Becket folk will try for an emotional appeal. Mumble mumble former church. Mumble mumble art gallery free speech. Mumble mumble Mennonites and candles and horse-drawn buggies and religious freedom!!

But when it comes right down to it, this is a bistro that doesn’t want to rent out the dining hall to Lee and Jared because they are gay. Period, end of conversation.

Comments

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Rick2L
October 8th, 2013 | LINK

They have every right to their beliefs. They also have every right not to run a business if those business rules conflict with their beliefs. They do not have the right to force the state and its citizens to act in accordance with those beliefs.

Erp
October 8th, 2013 | LINK

Actually the couple might want a religious ceremony hence choosing a former church; not all religious groups have a building or have a building suitable or nearby (e.g., a Metropolitan Community Church or a UU fellowship group) so someone rents one for big events.

However religious or non-religous doesn’t matter when it comes to renting (though the owners would be within their rights to ban candles or incense across the board).

jpeckjr
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

Perhaps Mr. Stafford should add religious discrimination to his claim. Mrs. Odgaard seems to be basing her objection on religious grounds, that her religion takes precedence over his religion. The article does not state whether they are planning a religious ceremony or a civil one. If religious, but not Mennonite, there could be a point to be made about religious discrimination. If civil, then it is not a religious ceremony and the grounds for her offense are removed.

revchicoucc
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

On a content point, Timothy, you have conflated Mennonites and Amish.

Mennonites are modern people who do not practice “shunning,” drive automobiles, use electricity, live in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and do participate in modern life and culture. They do not separate themselves from the general culture and modern world.

As evidence, no Amish person would own a bistro that has electricity, nor would an Amish person promote his or her property to the general public as a wedding venue.

Rob
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

Revchicoucc,

I’m not one to normally defend Timothy, but Mennonites do indeed practice shunning. It’s not just for the Amish. Not all the Mennonites do it, but it is a smaller sect called The Reformed Mennonites. Or in the U.S., “The Old Order”. And the Old Order also do not own automobiles and use the horse and buggy, don’t allow their photo to be taken, and use a horse and plow instead of tractors and the like just like their Amish counterparts.

I also found it interesting that the Amish are just an off shoot of the Mennonites. A little research goes a long way.

Now, Timothy may not have known this, but he was not wrong in his usage of Mennonite, unless you believe he should have used the term “Old Order” before the name Mennonite.

http://somdthisisliving.somd.com/archive/vol7num3/humble_and_faithful.html

Ryan
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

Timothy, I have to confess, I don’t really understand where your line is at. Either businesses should have a right to discriminate against gay people or they shouldn’t. I don’t understand any difference between this case and the one with the baker who refused to make a gay wedding cake. It’s simply the physical act of cake preparation that hangs you up? I mean, this women here still has to go through the physical act of handing over the keys to the room and whatever other preparation she must do. It seems like a difference without meaning.

Jeff
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

This video actually shows how the Odgaards personally participate in the wedding ceremonies they host at the gallery. Also points out that they serve and hire gays.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcDHVmMLJTU&feature=share&list=UUpvuvc53e3z_eFDTy3VN8PQ

homer
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

“I tend to err on the side of individual rights and I am no fan of non-discrimination laws in general.”

Sorry Timothy, until humans are able to treat each other equally we will need anti-discrimination laws. My mother remembers seeing the “white only” fountains in the southern states. Do we really want to go back to those days?

Priya Lynn
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

“I tend to err on the side of individual rights and I am no fan of non-discrimination laws in general. They tend to pit people against each other”.

And being discriminated against doesn’t?! Holy F!

“and the blurry line between my right to get what I want and your right to do what you want with your property, time and body tends to leave all sides feeling imposed upon.”

B.S. Doing once again the same job you’ve willingly done hundreds or thousands of times in the past for someone you don’t like in no way can be considered a real imposition on anyone. Such an “imposition” is ultimately trivial and inconsequential and in no way can be equated with the real imposition of being denied service.

Soren456
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

Non-discrimination laws are created after those protected by them have made a case for their need.

EVERY group protected by such law has made a convincing case — often, a horrifying case — for inclusion. There’s nothing “blurry” about what they’ve said and shown.

To suggest (apparently with a straight face) that non-discrimination laws ought to be more wishy-washy in their application is, really, to spit on the case made to create the protection.

TampaZeke
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

@Ryan, I think Timothy tends to pick and choose when, and against whom, he supports a right to discriminate. A lot of people seem to do that. Most people who believe that religious people should be able to discriminate against gay people don’t believe that it should be legal to discriminate against religious people.

Neil
October 9th, 2013 | LINK

Legalisation of homosexuality leads ultimately to equality. Attempts to somehow humiliate gay people by denial of service, to show us that we are not agreed with, is part of the process towards equality.

Those who oppose our equality will always argue against any progress we make, even if they accept how far we’ve come.

So it’s an oddly specific sort of rejection the Osgaards wish to maintain, still accepting employees or customers who might be gay but objecting to expressions of the most recent example of progress, same-sex marriage.

It’s the anti-gay with a smiley face. Still, if there’s an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation then they’re obliged to accept public accommodation in their provision of service to gays as with any other protected category.

Their religious conviction is objectively debatable. There is no absolute religious defence of their position. If subjective belief is allowed to trump the law, I don’t see how the law can operate with any sensible consistency.

Richard Rush
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

There must have been an omission in the quote from the Becket Fund, so I’ve repaired it:

“The Odgaards have long hired and served gays and lesbians. . . [Betty and Richard are more than happy to benefit from their labor, and to receive their money when they serve them . . . as long as friends, neighbors, and God never get the erroneous impression that the they accept gays and lesbians as equals.]“

Spunky
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

As the Quad City Times article points out, sexual orientation is listed as a protected class in the Iowa Civil Rights Act:

Housing

Unfair or discriminatory practices – housing.

It shall be an unfair or discriminatory practice for any person, owner, or person acting for an owner …

1. To refuse to sell, rent, lease, assign, sublease, refuse to negotiate, or to otherwise make unavailable, or deny any real property or housing accommodation … to any person because of the race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or familial status of such person.

Since the law is so black-and-white in this case, I imagine that the ruling will be similar to that in Elaine Photography v. Willock.

Rob
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

spunky- that would be all well and good if this was a housing issue. They are not trying to obtain a place to live. It isn’t a housing issue, it’s a denial of services issue, there has to be something actually related to services, such as the Civil Rights Ordinance that bans discrimination in services.

And to Priya, TampaZeke, et al: Timothy would be quite upset if someone used THEIR personal rights to deny him his, but cares much less when it’s some other persons rights. I’d put good money on it that he wouldn’t stand to have HIS rights infringed on, and would probably be willing to infringe on someone else’s rights without a second thought. One doesn’t hold his view and NOT act upon it.

Nathaniel
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

I must agree with the importance of anti-discrimination laws. My belief stems from a lack of conviction in the forces of Capitalism to punish every business person for every decision that harms their customers. So regulations that limit their ability for harm while giving a route of punishment should they manage to do so are most welcome. However, I recognize this is a philosophical distinction that is ultimately moot in the face of the actuality of the existence of those laws and of those who violate them, such as this case.

That said, the most disturbing quote to me is, “the organization doesn’t want to eliminate “sexual orientation” as a protected class in Iowa.” That is utter BS. You can’t claim to want to keep a particular protected class on the books while fighting for your client’s right to deny those protections. Either you believe these laws apply to everyone, or you believe they only apply to those that would obey them anyway, which is functionally the same as not having them in the first place. Clearly Ms. Hardman is trying to avoid the fallout of admitting to being bigots, but her obvious lie should fool no one.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

Rob said “And to Priya, TampaZeke, et al: Timothy would be quite upset if someone used THEIR personal rights to deny him his, but cares much less when it’s some other persons rights.”.

I think Timothy’s loyalties are divided. He identifies to a degree with gays and lesbians but also identifies to a large degree with very religious people so when religious people look down on gays, want to discriminate against them, and say its because of their religion Timothy sympathizes with them to a degree and feels an obligation to somewhat respect their belief that gays are immoral. I’m sure he doesn’t feel the same about people who think blacks are inferior but feels he has to support racists desires to discriminate against blacks solely to be consistent with advocating that religious people be allowed to discriminate against gays.

Nathaniel
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

PL, you are buying into the false dichotomy supported by LGBT opponents that suggests one cannot be (supportive of) LGBT (people) and be Christian. You don’t have to agree with someone’s religious beliefs to be supportive of their right to believe them, or to even express those beliefs in ways that do not hurt others and their rights to practice as they believe. Timothy is right to point out that what is ethical begins to get fuzzy when two private individuals clash over their mutually exclusive beliefs. As a society, we have generally settled this by putting the burden on individuals offering public services that are independent of their private faith. That we broadly agree with this solution doesn’t actually make it the best one, and it is good to have people regularly question our motives to ensure we consistently apply our principles.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

“PL, you are buying into the false dichotomy supported by LGBT opponents that suggests one cannot be (supportive of) LGBT (people) and be Christian.”.

Nonsense. I never said any such thing. What I said was that one cannot be supportive of LGBT people and be an anti-gay christian. I’ve never disputed that many christians are supportive of LGBT people.

Nathaniel
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

Thank you for clarifying. However, I think your sentence “He identifies to a degree with gays and lesbians but also identifies to a large degree with very religious people…” can be easily misconstrued to communicate the very sentiment of which I accused you.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2013 | LINK

Yes, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. What I meant to say was I think he also identifies with very religious anti-gay people to a degree.

Rob
October 11th, 2013 | LINK

Priya, your first post was perfectly clear, the only way one could be confused, Nathaniel, is if one stopped reading where you stopped quoting. Priya’s statement neded no clarification.

Priya Lynn
October 11th, 2013 | LINK

Thanks Rob.

Regan DuCasse
October 12th, 2013 | LINK

Mennonites don’t allow alcohol to be served or drunk.
But this business DOES.
It’s a like Southern Baptists owning a club that allows dancing.
But if gay people want to use that business for the purpose to which the allow the public, then their religious convictions and belief have already flown out of the window.

They are so transparent saving all their religious beliefs, entitlements and abuses JUST for gay people.
But not on the ENTIRE principle of ‘sins’.
Hence, noting just how full of shit these people are, is easy.

Spunky
October 12th, 2013 | LINK

@Rob:

spunky- that would be all well and good if this was a housing issue. They are not trying to obtain a place to live. It isn’t a housing issue, it’s a denial of services issue, there has to be something actually related to services, such as the Civil Rights Ordinance that bans discrimination in services.

Good catch–my mistake. I saw the word “rent” in the article and instantly thought “housing” even though it’s clearly a public accommodation situation. So if it is a public accommodation issue, then the relevant section of the law would be athis:

Public Accommodations

Unfair practices – accommodations or services.

It shall be an unfair or discriminatory practice for any owner, lessee, sublessee, proprietor, manager or superintendent of any public accommodation or any agent or employee thereof:

a. To refuse or deny to any person because of race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion or disability the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, or privileges thereof, or otherwise to discriminate against any person because of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability in the furnishing of such accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, or privileges.
b. To directly or indirectly advertise or in any other manner indicate or publicize that the patronage of persons of any particular race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability is unwelcome, objectionable, not accepted or not solicited.

Iowa Code section 216.7(1).

In this case, this case should be even more similar to Elaine Photography v. Willock than I had previously stated.

MassageJeffrey
October 16th, 2013 | LINK

The law is clear, and these people have violated it. It’s a civil matter, not a religious one.

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