Lambda Legal Seeks to Join Appeal by Iowa Business that Denied Wedding Space to Same-Sex Couple

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‘A business that is open to the public is required by Iowa law to be just that – open to the public.’
June 5, 2014

(Des Moines, IA, June 5, 2014) — Yesterday, Lambda Legal filed papers on behalf of Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars seeking to join an appeal between a Grimes, Iowa, commercial establishment that had refused to rent event space to them for their wedding and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). The same-sex couple had filed a complaint against the establishement, he Görtz Haus Gallery, an art gallery and event space, with the ICRC after the gallery refused to rent event space to them for their wedding.

“It has long been true in this country that we are all free to have our own protected religious beliefs—but a line is crossed when those beliefs turn to actions that harm others,” said Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal. “A business that is open to the public is required by Iowa law to be just that – open to the public.”

In August of 2013, Stafford and Ellars were in the final stages of planning their wedding, and approached the The Görtz Haus about hosting their ceremony and celebration. The owners of the art gallery, Betty and Richard Odgaard, refused to rent their space, citing religious objections to marriage for same-sex couples. Mr. Stafford and Mr. Ellars subsequently filed a complaint with the ICRC, but the Odgaards quickly filed a lawsuit in the Polk County District Court against the ICRC seeking to block the agency’s investigation of the matter. Their lawsuit asked the court to bypass the ICRC’s authority over the Iowa Civil Rights Act and rule that their business could refuse service to same-sex couples and also rule that they would be immune to litigation in the future if they had religious objections for a refusal of business. In April, the district court dismissed the Odgaard’s lawsuit, saying they must go through the administrative process of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. On May 1, the Odgaards gave notice of their appeal of that decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. Lambda Legal filed a motion to intervene on June 4, 2014.

The Iowa Civil Rights Act expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation, such as a private business that operates as a wedding event space.

Ken Upton, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal is joined by Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, Jennifer C. Pizer, Law and Policy Director for Lambda Legal, and Sharon K. Malheiro of Davis Brown Law Firm in Des Moines, IA.


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