Saturday, August 17, 2013

How to recognize a homosexual: It's the beard

I enjoy studying reader comments that follow news stories published online. As a rule they're predictable, but sometimes a guy learns something new.

Take the recent hooting and hollering after Dick and Betty Odgaard, proprietors of the Gortz Haus --- a Grimes wedding venue --- turned away Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars, a same-sex couple who were thinking they might get married there. Religious convictions, said the Odgaards.  Iowa Code violation, said the couple, who have filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (and found another venue).

A page or two under either the WHO-TV or KCCI-TV report, I found a comment from an angry old white guy (his photo was included with the comment) that concluded --- after he apparently had studied the faces of the affianced couple carefully, "and they have the vagina-shaped beards of the homosexual."

This is an attribute of sexual orientation that had never occurred to me before, but I'll watch more carefully from here on out --- and check with a few of my lesbian friends.


Stafford and Ellars had planned to marry at the Hotel Patee in Perry, an extravagantly restored hotel that recently went belly-up again, thereby disrupting their plans.

While shopping around for a replacement venue, they stopped at the Gortz Haus (which apparently had neglected to put out its "no queers here" sign that morning) and were told after the tour by co-owner Dick Odgaard that because of religious conviction he couldn't accommodate a gay wedding.

The Gortz Haus, which also advertises itself as a gallery, framing shop, floral shop and bistro, operates from a retired Lutheran church. It's owners are Mennonite, among anabaptists the sub-sect most likely to range depending upon local expression from extreme conservatism to considerable liberality.


The difficulty here is that under Iowa Code (section 126.7 of the Civil Rights Act) discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation --- and a variety of other attributes --- is forbidden to non-church-related businesses that offer public accommodations. 

If you're a church, you can legally keep everyone you don't like out of your pews, book shop or wedding venue --- racial minorities, religious minorities, the handicapped, LGBT people and more. But if you're operating a non-church-afflilated business, you can't. It's also would be against the law to post that "no queers here" sign out front.

As unfair as that may seem --- and it does seem to be perceived as unfair by a considerable number of Iowans if comments are any indication --- it's part of doing business in Iowa.


The Odgaards seem to be nice people and Betty Odgaard probably was not being disingenuous when she told a reporter that she'd otherwise like to be friends with Stafford and Ellars, who she said seemed like a nice couple.

The Odgaards apparently have taken a good deal of online abuse from those distressed by their decision. There's really no excuse for that sort of thing, although calm and politely phrased dissent certainly is permissible.

Obviously, the law interferes with the couple's right to enforce their religious convictions in the public sector. On the other hand, the law protects those who might suffer if those convictions were enforced. It seems unlikely we really want to return to the days when Iowa businesses could, and sometimes did, turn away racial minorities.

Actually, there probably are those who'd like that.

But there's also the thought that many of the heterosexual couples united in marriage at the Gortz Haus had violated other aspects of the Odgaards' moral code, too, but no effort had been made to investigate their backgrounds.

Obviously, Stafford and Ellars should have shaved their beards before the tour so that they would not have been so easily recognized as gay.

It's an interesting situation. 

I'm reminded of the elderly Buffalo Center-area farmer of many years ago now, pious rock of his conservative church but otherwise widely known for crooked business dealings. When confronted about the apparent conflict, he reportedly responded, "I never mix business and religion."

There's something to be said for that general outlook --- once you get beyond the fair and honest business practices part of the deal. But then religious people never have had the market cornered in that area.

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