Couple files suit against Iowa Civil Rights Commission

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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The owners of a central Iowa event venue filed suit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission Monday, after a same-sex couple was denied the ability to host their wedding.

On Monday, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in Iowa court on behalf of Betty and Richard Odgaard, owners of the Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, a Tuesday news release by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said.

The venue is approximately 20 miles northwest of Des Moines.

In August, Lee Stafford and his partner Jared were turned away from the owners of the former church, which now serves as a gallery, bistro and private event venue. The Odgaard’s, both Mennonites, said at the time that a same-sex wedding violated their religious beliefs.

Because the venue stands as public venue, the gay couple filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, alleging the Görtz Haus cannot discriminate based on religion.

In the release, Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said the The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 has very clear language protecting the defined civil rights for certain characteristics of any person. Public accommodations is one of five areas protected under this section of the Code.

In 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Code was updated to include sexual orientation and gender identity as two additional characteristics.

“In Iowa, when a business provides a service open to the public they are a public accommodation,” she said. “That business must accommodate all the public, regardless of the owner’s personal beliefs. To do otherwise is discrimination. In the not so distant past, it was common place in the United States for blacks to be denied access to restaurants and stores. Interracial couples were often denied access to hotels and housing. Jews and Catholics faced the same discrimination simply because of their religion. Religious beliefs and religious freedom were often used as the basis for the discrimination. The situation in Grimes is no different. The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa strongly supports the First Amendment rights of all people, which in part guarantees the right to choose or not choose a particular religion and to practice a chosen religion freely. However, the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to use one’s personal religious beliefs to discriminate against other people. Based on our country’s history, the Iowa Civil Rights Law rightfully provides protection to people from such discrimination. Do we really want to go back to the day when businesses, employers, landlords and others are allowed to discriminate based on personal religious beliefs? Do we really want to go back to the day when people have to check the shop window to know if they can enter or not?”

— by Quentin Misiag

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