According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Richard and Betty Odgaard are a small-town Mennonite couple whose faith is central to their lives.
That's why, Becket says, the Odgaards kept religious elements intact when they transformed a century-old Iowa church into an art gallery, bistro and flower/gift shop where they hosted weddings.
But the couple got in trouble when they refused to participate in a same-sex wedding.
Through the years, the Odgaards have gladly hired gay employees and served gay customers at the Gallery’s shops and bistro but they cannot personally participate in a wedding ceremony that violates their own religious beliefs.
Although there were numerous nearby venues that actively advertise to host same-sex weddings, when the Odgaards declined to host the wedding, the couple immediately filed a complaint with the State, triggering an intense media campaign against the Odgaards. They were subjected to hate mail, boycotts, personal attacks, and even death threats. Officials in the Civil Rights Commission showed open disdain for the Odgaards’ religious rights, and even denied them access to state court to defend their religious liberty claims. Shockingly, the State refused to dismiss its case against the Odgaards even after the two men — contrary to their prior sworn statements — admitted they had been married months before asking the Odgaards to host their ceremony.
Facing growing pressure from the State and potentially years of legal proceedings, with the risk of being forced to pay the couple’s legal fees, the Odgaards chose to remain true to their faith. They settled the charges brought against them, paying thousands of dollars to the couple, and agreed to stop hosting all weddings. Without this vital income, the Odgaards were forced to close the Gallery.
Fast-forward to this week: The Odgaards are making headlines for launching a billboard campaign promoting marriage as a God-ordained union between one man and one woman.
The Dallas Morning News notes that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, has embraced the couple's cause:
Here's my question: Are the Odgaards really "anti-gay marriage?" Or are they actually "pro-traditional-marriage?" Moreover, does the framing of their position as "anti-gay marriage" prejudice the news coverage against them? And, just out of curiosity, what part of the billboard mentions same-sex marriage?
The lede from USA Today's story (picked up from the Des Moines Register, a Gannett sister paper):
GRIMES, Iowa — After months of controversy, the Gortz Haus closed its doors last week in the wake of declining revenue — first, for its refusal to host gay weddings, then for discontinuing its wedding business altogether.
Though the Grimes bistro, art gallery and venue is no longer open, owners Richard and Betty Odgaard have no plans to put aside their religious campaign against same-sex marriage.
On the Facebook page for their ministry, God's Original Design Ministry, the Odgaards say they plan to erect 1,000 billboards advertising their belief in upholding "traditional" marriage between one man and one woman.
Notice how "'traditional' marriage" gets scare quotes, but "same-sex marriage" does not. If the bias weren't so blatant, it would be humorous.
Later in the story, there's this important context:
Betty Odgaard declined an interview request. But she did stress that the billboard effort is not a campaign against the gay community.
"It certainly isn't coming from a hateful place," Odgaard said. "What I'm most frustrated with is that it's viewed as being hateful. And that's the last thing that I want to convey. It's just that we want to hold up the Biblical view of marriage."
Gee, I wonder why it's being viewed as hateful.
It sure couldn't be the "anti-gay" media spin, could it?