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Religious Tolerance logo

Homosexuality and Transgender/Transsexual topics:

Previous civil rights battles.
Iowa couple accused of bigotry
& hatred.
Their business suffers.

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love hate imageA statement of the problem:

Starting in 2004, a few states started to legalize gay marriages. During mid-2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized such marriages across almost all of the United States. 3 The owners of a few retail outlets in the marriage business who are religious conservatives have defied state human rights laws and similar municipal ordinances. Because of their sincere beliefs that homosexual behavior is profoundly immoral, they chose to refused to serve couples from the LGBT community with wedding-related goods and services. These companies have included wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, renters of wedding venues, etc.

Initially, some owners benefited financially from their decision to discriminate. Many fellow religious conservatives in need of wedding goods and services preferred dealing with their store because these customers shared negative views about gay marriage with the owners. The owners' profits increased. However, more recently, as the percentage of U.S. adults who approved of same-sex marriages increased, more customers began to boycott stores that discriminate, resulting in lower profits. Some have called the store owners bigots and homophobic haters. This essay deals with one such case in Iowa. Similar cases are expected in the future.

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Historical background on previous cultural battles:

U.S. politics, religions, and culture have been in a state of flux for centuries. Since the end of the civil war, there have been many painful battles over human rights, involving:

  • Human slavery. Owning people as property had been justified in previous centuries by many Christian denominations, because of a biblical passage in Genesis. It described an unspecified sin committed by Ham against his father Noah. This resulted in a curse by Noah against his grandson Canaan, and all of his descendents. Many theologians interpreted the descendents of Canaan to be Africans and African Americans. It took the civil war to free the slaves throughout the U.S.

  • Deaf couples: During the late 19th century several states banned marriages by loving, committed couples who were profoundly deaf. These laws were all repealed early in the 20th century.

  • Voting: The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on 1920-AUG-18, to give women the right to vote.

  • Inter-racial marriage: By 1967, anti-miscegenation laws were still on actively enforced in 16 states. All were in the southeast quadrant of the United States, from Virginia to Texas to Florida.. They prohibited inter-racial marriage. In a 1967 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in an ironically named case: Loving v. Virginia, all were made null and void.

  • Same-gender sexual behavior: Same-gender sex by consenting adults had been criminalized since colonial times. It was originally considered a capital crime. By 2003, laws were still on the books in 13 states, although many were not being actively enforced. They were overturned by a 2003 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Human Rights: During the 20th century, human rights laws were passed by many states, and human rights ordinances were passed by many municipalities. Most or all of these banned discrimination based on gender, skin color, race, religion, and national origin. Some also banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; a few also included gender identity.

  • Gay Marriage: During recent decades, many conflicts arose on a state by state basis over gay marriage. A mid-2015 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court extended same-sex marriage to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four out of five territories. 3

Fortunately, these changes have taken place over an time interval of about a century and a half -- six generations. This has allowed people to adapt to the changes. If the same events had occurred during a single generation, the rate of change would probably have been much more than the culture could have accommodated.


  • Gender identity: Very shortly after gay marriage was legalized, many conservative religious groups, state legislatures, etc. almost instantaneously switched their opposition from same-sex marriage to discriminating against transgender individuals and transsexuals. Many states have passed, or are considering, "bathroom bills" to prohibit transgender persons from using public washrooms that correspond to their gender identity. North Carolina's law has been receiving the most attention recently.

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2016-SEP-29: The New York Times featured an article about Betty and Dick Odgaard in Grimes, IA:

The article is titled:

"Torn Over Donald Trump and Cut Off by Culture Wars, Evangelicals Despair. In small-town Iowa, conservative Christians say they feel abandoned, with no true champion in the presidential race and a country that they believe has turned its back." 1

The Odgaards once owned a church next door to their home which they converted into an art gallery, bistro, flower shop and picture framing service. They rented the chapel to couples for marriages and other events.

same-sex couple During 2007, Iowa amended its human rights law to include two additional protected classes: sexual orientation and gender identity. 2 On 2009-APR-03, Iowa became the fourth state in the U.S. to allow same-sex couples to marry. During 2013, the Odgaards were approached by two gay men who wanted to rent the chapel for their upcoming marriage. Because the Odgaards are evangelical Christians who interpret various passages in the Bible as forbidding same-sex marriage, they refused to rent their chapel to the couple. The couple lodged a complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission. Apparently, the facility owned and operated by the Odgaards is considered a profit-making public accommodation -- a business set up to serve the general public. As such it is subject to the state human rights law.

What happened then is a little obscure:

  • According to the article by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times:

    The owners settled the dispute through arbitration. They paid the gay couple $5,000 which the latter donated to an anti-bullying campaign for gay students. That would have been a significant business expense to the owners of the chapel.

    But then, a more serious problem emerged. The article said:

    "After the controversy, regular customers stopped coming. Friends and family members stopped speaking to them. The Odgaards were vilified as bigots and haters. ..."

    "The change in America seemed to happen so quickly that it felt like whiplash, the Odgaards said. One day, they felt comfortably situated in the American majority, as Christians with shared beliefs in God, family and the Bible. They had never even imagined that two people of the same sex could marry.

    Overnight, it seemed, they discovered that even in small-town Iowa they were outnumbered, isolated and unpopular. Everyone they knew seemed to have a gay relative or friend. Mr. Odgaard’s daughter from his first marriage disavowed her father’s actions on Facebook, and his gay second cousin will not speak to him. Even their own Mennonite congregation put out a statement saying that while the denomination opposes gay marriage, 'not every congregation' or Mennonite does. Mrs. Odgaard, 64, the daughter of a Mennonite minister, was devastated."

  • However, according to FRC Action, the story is quite different:

    "After an intense legal fight that prompted the couple to give up the business, the Odgaards hit the road to warn other Americans that the threat to their [religious] freedom is real." 5

The FRC (Family Research Council) is a fundamentalist Christian group that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has said qualifies as a hate group because of their frequent misrepresentation of topics related to homosexual orientation. 6

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. Laurie Goodstein, "Torn Over Donald Trump and Cut Off by Culture Wars, Evangelicals Despair," New York Times, 2016-SEP-29, at: http:/
  2. Kristin Johnson, "Iowa Civil Rights Commission Releases Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure," Iowa Civil Rights Commission, 2016-JUL-08.
  3. Gay marriages are still not available in American Samoa. Most of the population in that Territory are considered U.S. residents, not U.S. Citizens. Thus, rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court do not necessarily apply there.
  4. 2016-MAY: Gallup found that support for gay marriage exceeded 6 out of 10 American adults. Their poll found that 61% believed that "marriages between same-sex couples should ... be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages." 37% were opposed.
  5. "Once Upon a Times..." FRC Action, 2016-SEP-30, at:
  6. "18 anti-gay groups and their propaganda: A small coterie of groups now comprise the hard core of the anti-gay movement," Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report, Winter-2010, Issue #140, at:

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How you may have arrived here:

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Bisexuality > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-OCT-01
Latest update : 2016-DEC-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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