Forced down the same-sex wedding aisle

Religious Liberty | An update on five small businesses that refused to participate in same-sex weddings and paid a heavy price
by Sarah Padbury
Posted 1/14/15, 10:22 am

Over the last few years, WORLD has reported on several Christian-owned businesses across the country approached by homosexual couples to provide services for their weddings. In all cases, the owners declined to work with the couples, stating their religious beliefs prevented participation in same-sex ceremonies. The couples sued, alleging discrimination. Here’s an update on where their cases stand as 2015 gets underway:

Arlene’s Flowers—Richland, Wash. 

Flower shop owner Barronelle Stutzman sold flowers to gay couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed for more than nine years, and considered Ingersoll a friend. But when he asked her to create the flower arrangements for the couple’s wedding in 2013, the great-grandmother said she couldn’t because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” Ingersoll and Stutzman parted amicably that day with a hug, but Freed took the story to the media.

When Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson saw the story, he filed suit against Stutzman—without any request from the plaintiffs, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Then Ingersoll and Freed filed their own lawsuit against Stutzman, suing her personally, as well as her business. The suits have since been combined.

ADF filed a countersuit against the attorney general on Stutzman’s behalf, asserting he violated the state constitution by denying her religious freedom. ADF also asked a judge to dismiss the claims against Stutzman in her personal capacity and to dismiss the case brought by the state. On Jan. 7, the court ruled against the request to dismiss claims against Stutzman in her personal capacity, leaving her personal assets in jeopardy. The trial is set for March.

In the meantime, Stutzman continues her flower business, “treating all of her customers with love and respect, as she always has,” ADF-allied attorney Kristen Waggoner told me via email. Stutzman has endured hundreds of attacking phone calls and letters, but she’s also received support from people all over the world, including a pastor from India who calls her weekly to check on her. But she has stopped taking orders for weddings while the lawsuit is pending.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa—Portland, Ore. 

Cake shop owners Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a cake for Rachel Cryer’s same-sex wedding ceremony in January 2013. Cryer and her partner, Laurel Bowman, filed complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, alleging sexual orientation discrimination. After investigating the complaints, the state issued formal charges against the Kleins in June 2014. A trial is scheduled for March, but both sides have filed motions for “summary judgment,” which ask the judge to decide the case before then.

Sweet Cakes was forced to close its storefront location in September 2013 due to attacks from LGBT activists. With business down by more than half, the Kleins closed the shop and moved the bakery to their home. Today, Melissa only bakes cakes to sell to friends and Aaron works as a garbage truck driver, ADF-allied attorney Anna Harmon told me via email. Ongoing attacks are posted on Sweet Cakes’ Facebook page, including one recent post that had almost 11,000 comments.

“They have received thousands of horrific emails, and each time their story resurfaces, the emails start again in earnest,” Harmon said. “[But] they have a good church family, which is doing a great job of bearing them up. Their faith is unwavering.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop—Lakewood, Colo. 

Cake shop owner Jack Phillips politely declined to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins in July 2012. He told them he would gladly make items for other events but could not make a ceremony cake as it violated his faith. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission two months later.

In December 2013, an administrative law judge sided with the couple, ordering Mullins to “cease and desist” from discriminating against same-sex couples by refusing to bake wedding cakes for them. Six months later, the commission ordered Phillips and his employees to undergo “comprehensive staff training” regarding the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, to file “quarterly compliance reports” for two years, and to document the number of customers denied any type of product or services, citing the reason for the denial. If Phillips does not comply with the order, he could be found in contempt of court.

Phillips appealed the commission’s ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals in July and is waiting for a trial date, ADF-allied attorney Nicolle Martin said via email.

“Masterpiece Cakeshop continues creating cake art and producing baked goods,” Martin wrote. “But Jack Phillips stopped making wedding cakes, which account for about a quarter of his business, until this lawsuit is resolved.”

Liberty Ridge Farm—Schaghticoke, N.Y. 

Robert and Cynthia Gifford rent their 100-acre farm for public events, including weddings, parties, meetings, and summer camps. In September 2012, a woman called to inquire about the farm’s wedding options. During the conversation, Cynthia Gifford determined the caller’s fiancé also was a woman and declined the booking. Melisa and Jennie McCarthy filed suit against the Giffords in October 2012 for allegedly violating New York’s Human Rights Law.

In July 2014, an administrative law judge ruled the Giffords’ actions warranted a severe penalty, with the “goal of deterrence.” She ordered them to pay $1,500 to each woman for “mental pain and suffering,” as well as a civil fine of $10,000, payable to the state. The order also required the Giffords to “prominently post” in a public area a posterdesigned by the New York Division of Human Rights that details the state’s anti-discrimination law and features a red heading in all-capitalized letters that reads, “Discrimination really hurts.” Lastly, the Giffords were ordered to establish “anti-discrimination” training and procedures for their employees and provide proof of such training “upon written demand.”

ADF-allied attorney James Trainor told me the state made it clear this was “an all or nothing ultimatum to do [wedding] ceremonies for everyone—or no one.” To stay true to their religious beliefs, the Giffords decided in September to no longer host weddings at their home. Bookings at the farm have suffered, as they now must inform potential clients they can host their reception, but not their wedding, he said.

In October, the Giffords paid $13,000 in fines to the state and the McCarthys. In November, they appealed the ruling to the New York Supreme Court. Trainor said he anticipates the case will be argued in the summer, with a decision handed down in the fall. 

Moral support for the Giffords’ stance on marriage has poured in from all over the world, including Australia, Britain, and Israel, Trainor said. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms created a “Liberty Fund” for donors to help with expenses.

The Görtz Haus Gallery—Grimes, Iowa.

Gallery owners Dick and Betty Odgaard rescued a 70-year-old, stone church from demolition in 2002, renovating the building into a bistro, art gallery, frame and floral shop. They also rent out the historic location for special events. But for the Mennonite couple, the highlight of the business—and its biggest source of income—is to plan, facilitate, and host weddings in the original sanctuary.

In August 2013, Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars asked the Odgaards to host their same-sex wedding ceremony. The Odgaards declined the request, contending that although they had hired gay and lesbian employees and served gay customers, they could not participate in a same-sex wedding because it violated their faith. The next day, Stafford and Ellars filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which launched an investigation.

A year later, the commission found “probable cause” the Odgaards violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act by refusing to host a same-sex wedding and ordered the parties to mediation. In the meantime, the Odgaards filed their own lawsuit against the commission, anticipating its ruling could force them to host same-sex weddings. But a district court dismissed the Odgaard’s lawsuit last spring, concluding the court did not have jurisdiction in the case because the commission hadn't yet ruled. The Odgaards recently decided to drop their lawsuit and also settle with Stafford and Ellars.

“The problem is, it’s already been a year-and-a-half since Lee and Jared filed the complaint,” Becket Fund attorney Eric Baxter told me. “[The commission] has never reached a decision. …These cases can drag on for years before [the accused’s] constitutional defense can be heard. The settlement allows the Odgaards to side-step the commission proceeding.”

The Odgaards paid $5,000 to the couple in exchange for dropping their complaint. Baxter said the amount was “not that much,” considering what other commissions have imposed, referencing the New York farm case. The Odgaards walked away with no ruling against them.

Betty Odgaard told me she’s received a lot of hurtful comments since the incident.

“There’s been a lot of people who won’t come in our door because they think that we are bigots and homophobes and just in general not nice people,” she said. “That was very hard.”

The Odgaards honored the weddings they had scheduled but no longer book the venue for ceremonies. Their business has suffered greatly, but they remain open thanks in large part to strangers stopping by to show their support, including a man who bought one of Odgaard’s original paintings. She credits God for providing people to pray for and encourage her at just the right moment.

“One day, I was in the bistro cooking,” Odgaard said, “and a woman just ran in—never seen her before or seen her since. She gave me a hug and said, ‘I was just at a Bible study. We are praying for you! Gotta go!’ Then she left! It was on a day I needed it.”

There’s a possibility the Odgaards could file a new lawsuit in federal court, asking it to rule Iowa cannot force them to host a ceremony that would violate their beliefs, Odgaards’ attorney said. They have no intention of abandoning the controversy.

“We want to take this and make a difference somehow,” Odgaard said. “God put us in a position to use us, but we’re not sure what that looks like yet.”

Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a writer, editor, and adoption advocate. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Sarah and her husband live with their six teenagers in Castle Rock, Colo.

Read more from this writer
ADVERTISEMENT