The Corner

You Must Let Us Marry on Your Property

Suppose you decide to rent your wedding hall out to couples to hold their weddings but you also hold a religious belief that marriage is the union of a husband and wife. Can you act on your beliefs in the public square? In Iowa, Mennonite owners of a wedding venue (operating since 2002) face an investigation by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission after the owners declined to allow their business to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony. (The Iowa Supreme Court mandated a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in 2009.)

One Iowa, a pressure group, issued a patronizing statement on the complaint:

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in June, and the Varnum v. Brien ruling over four years ago that paved the way for marriage equality in Iowa, we appreciate that this nation and the state of Iowa have experienced real change that may be challenging for some people.

When the Jim Crow laws were overturned decades ago, the culture didn’t change overnight even though the law did. Today, same-sex couples can legally marry in Iowa and have the same federal recognition as non-gay married spouses. So, while the law has changed we understand that the culture will take a little longer. 

One Iowa respects and appreciates that Mr. and Mrs. Odgaard are Iowans with deeply held religious beliefs and convictions. At the same time, we need to separate our respect for the Odgaards’ religious beliefs from the Iowa civil rights code. While religious institutions are protected by religious freedoms, it’s important to note that the Gortz Haus is a public venue. It cannot be confused with a religious institution. The Odgaards provide a service to the public that must accommodate all Iowans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

So, the judicially created “right” to one’s own legal definition of marriage is not enough and must include a right to have the marriage performed, for a fee, on private property. Does this new “right” hamper one (that’s actually in the Constitution) to free exercise? No problem, the latter will just have to yield.

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