By Laurie Goodstein
GRIMES, Iowa — Betty and Dick Odgaard used to own the tiny church next door to their home. They had built it over 13 years into an art gallery, bistro, flower shop and framing service. They even rented out the chapel, with its bright stained glass windows, for social events.
But three years ago, the Odgaards refused to rent the quaint site to two gay men for a wedding, saying it would violate their religious beliefs about marriage. The men filed a civil rights complaint, and the Odgaards settled, paying a penalty because it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. After the controversy, regular customers stopped coming. Friends and family members stopped speaking to them. The Odgaards were vilified as bigots and haters.
But it was not long before the Odgaards found themselves cast as heroes as well. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, then a Republican candidate for president, visited the Odgaards’ business and videotaped a sympathetic interview with them. They joined a troupe of business owners upheld as Christian martyrs in the nation’s culture wars: the cake baker, the florist and the photographers who stood up for their religious beliefs and lost legal battles. They received a standing ovation at a Cruz rally and signed on as “religious liberty ambassadors” in his campaign.
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