Last month, a couple from Iowa placed their first anti-gay billboard, hoping to raise funds to go on to place 999 more. What they call their ministry was inspired when their business, providing a wedding venue, closed after the couple refused to rent to gay and lesbian couples. On Friday, as he spoke in Iowa, Ted Cruz invited the couple on stage to speak about persecution and religious liberty.
Cruz held a Religious Liberty Rally in Iowa on Friday and told his audience that religious liberty in America is under attack. He added that “many in the media” deny this, but that at this gathering, he would prove it by introducing people whose religious rights have been denied due to gay rights, separation of church and state, or other rulings and laws that limit Christian privilege.
With that, he introduced Dick and Betty Odgaard, the couple who began an anti-gay billboard campaign after shuttering their business rather than renting space to same-sex couples.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 22, 2015
C-Span has the entire two hour video of the rally.
Cruz refers to the Odgaards’ business as a church, but by the couple’s own description on their Fund Me America page, the building no longer operated as a church, but as a flower shop, art gallery, and bistro — a business, subject to laws governing how businesses treat customers, and subject to anti-discrimination laws. (Ministers and churches are not subject to these anti-discrimination laws, and can refuse to perform or host any wedding, on any grounds.) The couple later began to rent the chapel portion of the building out as a wedding venue — before Iowa passed laws forbidding anti-gay discrimination.
The Odgaards explain to Cruz that they chose to get out of the wedding business after being sued and paying out $8,000 in fines and fees when they refused to rent the venue to a gay couple, saying they “simply could not participate” in something they felt was sinful. They continued to operate as a bistro, art gallery, and flower shop — as they had done long before beginning to offer weddings.
Though the couple operated their business for six years before adding a wedding venue, Cruz refers to the flower shop, catering, and other parts of the business as “supporting” and making the weddings possible. The couple say they continued in these businesses for almost another year — from November 2014 through the last day of July 2015 — before a lack of business (not a government ruling or order) caused them to shut down.
They say that as their anti-gay-marriage stance became publicly known, those who did support them refused to do so publicly, and others called them bigots and homophobes. The free market, and the decision of many in the public to no longer do business with them, led them to close their business, and instead begin asking for donations, so they could begin a billboard campaign to tell the public that gay marriage is a sin. Though they were present to speak of persecution, the couple never mentioned their anti-gay billboard — pictured below via their Facebook page.
If the Odgaards hoped their appearance with the presidential hopeful would boost their campaign, there’s no clear sign yet of success — the anti-gay billboard campaign’s fundraising page currently shows only $506 in donations, far from enough to place a second billboard.
[Photo by:Scott Olson/Getty Images; Billboard Image via God’s Original Design Ministries]