On Tuesday, Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz released a video titled “In Defense of Religious Liberty.” Cruz interviews Dick and Betty Odgaard, who own a wedding venue called the Gortz Haus Gallery in Iowa and refuse to serve same-sex couples. He informs the couple that their decision to turn away gay customers “inspires me.” The video ends with an invitation to an upcoming Iowa “rally for religious liberty”—hosted by Cruz, of course.
A few corrections. First, the Gortz Haus Gallery is not a “church,” as Cruz repeatedly labels it. The gallery was a church, but when the Odgaards bought it, they converted it from a house of worship into a bistro, flower shop, art gallery, and wedding venue—in other words, a business. Second, the video strongly implies that the Odgaard’s business was forced to stop hosting all weddings because the state fined it into oblivion. That is not true. The Iowa Civil Rights Commissioned fined the Odgaards just $5,000—and insisted that they must stop refusing service to same-sex couples. It was the latter ruling by which the Odgaards could not abide. Betty Odgaard says the gallery stopped hosting weddings because “we didn’t have a choice.” In fact, the gallery stopped hosting weddings because the Odgaards couldn’t bear to serve gay and bisexual clientele.
Finally, Cruz and the Odgaards suggest that they suffered because their discriminatory act received wide publicity. This may be true, but it has little to do with religious liberty. Private individuals chose to divert their business from the Gortz Haus Gallery because it discriminated, and they spread the word of its anti-gay animus. That’s not religious persecution: It’s a market solution, based in free expression. Cruz likes to present himself as a free speech defender. But it seems he's only interested in standing up for the First Amendment when it is used to expand the rights of corporations and oligarchs to electioneer without limit.