The Christian owners of a flower shop, restaurant and wedding venue in Grimes, Iowa, who faced a contentious legal battle following their refusal to host a gay couples’ ceremony, are closing up shop, and issuing a warning to wedding-related business owners: that they, too, could soon face the same challenges.
Despite their business misfortune, there’s an ironic twist: The chapel’s current building will likely become home to a church — a development that Betty and Dick Odgaard, owners of Görtz Haus Gallery, are welcoming.
The husband and wife duo said that they have been operating the wedding business for 13 years, but after media coverage following their decision to turn away gay couple Lee Stafford and his fiancé Jared Ellars in August 2013, challenges abounded.
Gortz Haus Gallery will be closing after a very public debate over declining service to a same-sex couple (Gortz Haus Gallery)
They recently decided to stop hosting wedding ceremonies for all couples rather than abide by a government mandate that they accommodate same-sex ceremonies, but the remaining business activity hasn't been enough to keep the doors open.
"Our case had everything to do with our closing. Once we could no longer host weddings it was only a matter of time," Betty Odgaard told TheBlaze in an email on Sunday. "The lunch business had already decreased substantially due to boycotts and all the slander and black eye now on Görtz Haus."
She said that recent staffing issues were the final straw, giving her and her husband, Dick, "the final nudge" to make the heart-wrenching decision to close up shop.
"The writing has been on the wall for quite some time and we hung on as long as we could," she said. "This day had to come but it's just so hard to say this is it, it's over."
Despite making the tough decision, Odgaard said that she and her husband "will be fine," though she offered a warning to others to be aware of what has happened to both her business and her family.
"This happened to us and if you are in the wedding business it will happen to you -- it's just a matter of when," she said. "If our justice system doesn't put something in place soon it will become increasingly difficult for Christians to be in business and stay true to the gospel and God's laws."
Odgaard continued, "This should not be happening in America when our religious freedom has already been bought and payed for. Let's not let this happen and everyone who agrees needs to let their voice be heard loudly and proudly."
Looking back at the legal challenge that she and her husband faced over refusing the gay couple's nuptials, Odgaard said that they wouldn't do anything differently when it came to the denial, though she said that she would have taken the time to stand up for her rights earlier rather than "[sitting] on the sidelines watching."
As for the future of the building where the Görtz Haus Gallery operates, Odgaard said that there might be a silver lining to their story, as the location -- which was once a church -- might once again become a house of worship.
"If all goes as planned it will be a church again -- and as it so happens, the church we attend," she said. "Ain't [God] awesome?"
Betty and Dick Odgaard previously told TheBlaze about how the controversy impacted them.
“It was just so hateful and so awful and personally it took me down. I didn’t want to be on this Earth anymore. It destroyed me,” Betty said of the public response to their refusal to host the wedding. “I was ready to quit. I wanted to … move out of the town. I knew that this gallery that we had built together would never be the same again.”
Listen to Betty and Dick Odgaard discuss their struggles during an April episode of "The Church Boys" (interview starts at the 36:00 mark):
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 went 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?”
In addition to the public scrutiny, the Odgaards also faced a legal battle after Stafford and Ellars filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The Christian business owners, who were represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa in the process in an effort to “get [their] liberties back.”
In the end, the lawsuit against Iowa was dismissed until the administrative process moved forward. That process resulted in a conciliatory agreement in which the couple agreed to pay $5,000 to Stafford and Ellars after being found guilty of discrimination last December.
Due to fatigue and fears that other refusals to host gay nuptials would end in the same manner, the Odgaards decided to step out of the wedding business after serving out their contracts for the 2014 season; now, they will close entirely.
“The precedent had been set,” Dick explained back in April. “Obviously, everybody knew where we stood, so we would be targets for a sting type of a deal, so we just decided to get clear out of the business which was financially very hurtful — painful, but we just had to do it.”
Screen shot from the Gortz Haus Gallery website
Despite the negative fallout from their decision to decline hosting the gay wedding ceremony, she and Dick are launching a non-profit organization called God’s Original Design Ministry, which has already been granted its 501(c)(3) status.
“Our pulpit is going to be multimedia with a lot of billboard activity,” Dick said. ”We’re extremely excited about it. The response we’ve gotten is fantastic. Things are going very, very fast.”
According to the ministry’s website, it was ”established to advance Christian teachings, Biblical ordinances and natural laws as God intended.” The couple plan to place billboards all over the country in an effort to defend traditional marriage and biblical values.
“I feel like God has just put a sense of no fear in us. He wins in the end, so what are we afraid of?” Betty said. “And we would like for other Christians to feel the same way, because what are we afraid of, really?”
Find out more about the ministry here.