Gazette Editorial Board
Religious rights and civil rights collided last week in Grimes, a small Polk County community.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an 11-count lawsuit, arguing that a Mennonite couple who own a private gallery in Grimes did not discriminate against a same-sex couple who wanted to hold their wedding in that facility and were told no. Betty and Richard Odgaard, according to a Becket Fund spokeswoman, have long hired and served gays and lesbians, but oppose allowing a same-sex ceremony in their gallery because it goes against their beliefs about marriage. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission is being asked to declare that the Grimes couple did not violate the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Lee Stafford of Des Moines filed the complaint against the Odgaards with the commission, claiming that his and his partner’s rights were violated.
The legal aspect of this case would appear to side with the same-sex couple. The gallery, a converted church that the Odgaards own and operate, is open to the public, and civil wedding services are among the services the public can purchase. The religious exemption from Iowa’s same-sex marriage law doesn’t fit as it would, say, for the Little Brown Church in Nashua, which is an actual church, not a gallery or other type of business subject to discrimination law.
That said, we wonder why the same-sex couple and the state’s largest gay rights advocacy group, One Iowa, have decided to target the Odgaards. There are many other suitable places in Iowa that would welcome a same-sex couple’s marriage ceremonies. Why pick a fight in Grimes?
We also see potential for public backlash. This case would appear to hurt more than help proponents of same-sex marriage rights — it’s coming off as a major battle that doesn’t respect the Mennonite’s freedom of speech rights either.
We long have supported civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, while also backing the right of religious institutions to conduct religious weddings in line with their beliefs. Taking on a Mennonite couple and their small business seems over the top.
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