Another business is facing retribution for declining service to a same-sex couple. Betty and Dick Odgaard, owners of Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa, are catching the ire of gay rights advocates after they declined offering their venue to Lee Stafford and his fiance Jared.
Now the owners, who are Christians, are receiving vicious and threatening emails and phone calls — and they fear that their business could shut down because of the fierce reaction.
It was less than one week ago that the Lee and Jared entered Görtz Haus looking for additional information about holding their wedding there. After Dick realized that it would be a gay ceremony, he told the couple that they would not be able to hold their nuptials at the establishment — and that’s when the controversy erupted.
“It started with emails and we noticed the emails were from a person with a name that looked like a man’s name. We’re a little suspicious about it and … two fellows walked in and that’s where it all began,” Dick told TheBlaze on Friday. “It was obvious what the situation was. I had to confirm it. I asked if this was a gay marriage celebration and I said we can’t take your money for this.”
From there, news spread that the Odgaards turned the couple away. Before long, phone calls and emails came streaming in. Betty said that some people have promised that the furor won’t stop until the business, which is a bistro, flower shop and a wedding destination, shuts down. Detractors have called Betty and Dick “haters.”
“I wish all people well. I have love for all people,” Betty, who was visibly distraught on the phone, told TheBlaze.
The family shared some of the e-mail responses they’ve received with TheBlaze. And the contents weren’t pretty.
One angry e-mail said that the family is “finished” and “doomed.” “You are mean, rude, selfish, mother f***er racist sons of b**ches from hell,” it read, with the writer later adding, “F**k you, f**k your God, f**k your religion.” Another person who goes by the name “Micky” wrote, “Betty, you’re very old and almost dead. How do you both feel, knowing that America, and the world, will be a better place without you?“
Further, someone claiming to be with the Westboro Baptist Church, a virulent anti-gay group, wrote to the owners claiming that members would soon be in the area to support the business. In sum, Betty and Dick report getting between 50 and 60 emails and about 20 to 30 phone calls per day about the incident, although a majority of these are actually positive. But while verbal support has been great, there hasn’t been an influx of people coming in, the couple said.
On the legal side of things, Lee and Jared, who believe they were unfairly discriminated against, have apparently filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Betty and Dick have consulted with their lawyer, who believes that they are within their religious rights to decline the wedding. On the flip side, Lee and Jared claim that the law is on their side.
Iowa law does prohibit service refusals based on sexual orientation, but religious sentiment often makes these scenarios more complicated.
The business has already experienced the impact of its decision. Betty said that two weddings are canceled for next summer and that some people want their down payments back. Additionally, an artist has pulled out from working with Görtz Haus Gallery.
“We will lose considerable money … it will impact us though, no doubt,” she told TheBlaze.
As far as their reasoning for the refusal, the couple is candid and wants to ensure that people understand their views on the matter — reasoning that they feel has not been adequately conveyed through media coverage. Betty called it “totally a faith-based issue” that is rooted in the family’s Christian religious convictions.
“We believe a marriage is between a man and woman,” she said, with Dick adding, “To us, it’s a sacrament.”
The couple noted that they have business associates, former staff members and friends who are gay and that they have nothing against them. There is no hate, they claim, as media and activists have charged. They simply disagree with the lifestyle, but respect the personal decisions that people make.
“I would serve them in every other way — we simply don’t want to take part … it just comes down to that final line of taking their vows in our facility,” the wife added, noting that she would have gladly provided flowers or cake (something more detached from the actual nuptials). “I do not hate these people and they have the right to do what they want to do under the law and in humanity.”
If the law requires the couple to comply and marry gay couples, they said that they will stay true to their convictions and will simply stop performing ceremonies at the location all together.
The future, considering the threatening e-mails and calls and the outrage, is uncertain. Betty said she’s looking for advice and guidance on how she can keep the business open.
“We don’t want to shut our doors. But financially it could shut it down,” she said. “We’ve never had anything like this happen.”
Betty and Dick aren’t alone. Other businesses have faced similar problems in the past, which TheBlaze has covered extensively.