Just the Beginning? Religious Freedom, Gay Rights Battle Turns Ugly
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Ten months after the Supreme Court passed a landmark case on gay marriage, a backlash against the ruling is spreading across the country.
Thirty-four states are considering new bills that would protect Christians from the threat of legal action because they object to gay marriage on religious grounds.
It's shaping up to be a fierce debate as gay activists and people of faith battle for their rights to be protected.
Business owners Dick and Betty Odgaards' story should serve as a warning of what happens when so-called religious freedom laws are not in place to protect people of faith.
On August 3, 2013, a gay couple asked the Odgaards if they could rent their gallery in Iowa for a same-sex wedding.
"They came in, and Dick was there, and he was the one who had to deliver the bad news to them," Betty recalled.
The Odgaards refused, citing their Christian belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
"I don't want to celebrate my sins. I don't want other people to celebrate my sins, nor do I want to participate in celebrating anybody else's sins," Richard said.
The gay couple sued them for discrimination and after a two-year court battle, rather than celebrate gay marriages, the Christian couple paid the couple a fine and agreed to stop hosting weddings at the gallery.
"It has been difficult. I won't lie," Betty acknowledged. "It has been the hardest thing we've ever been through and I don't wish it upon anyone."
Their decision cost them dearly. After months of negative publicity, hate mail, death threats and loss of income, the Gortz Haus Gallery went out of business last year.
"The ugly continues to come at us, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else and we would do it all over again the same way because we are in the middle of God's will," Betty told CBN News.
Since last summer's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, more than 100 religious freedom bills have been proposed in 34 states to protect Christians and others from the threat of legal action because they object to gay marriage on religious grounds.
Take for example the new law just passed in Mississippi.
"The Mississippi law says if you believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman, that sex is reserved for marriage and that we are created male and female -- it doesn't say you have to believe those things -- but it says if you do believe those things, we are not going to penalize you if you act on those beliefs," explained Dr. Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C-based Heritage Foundation.
In Louisiana and Ohio, lawmakers are also proposing measures that protect pastors who refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
Anderson said the accusation that these religious freedom laws are discriminatory against gays and lesbians just isn't true.
"I think the basic argument here is that we are trying to protect pluralism, we're trying to protect diversity, we're promoting tolerance," he said.
But some of the laws have been met with fierce opposition from businesses, activists and celebrities.
For instance, North Carolina's governor was forced to roll back portions of a controversial new state law after several companies criticized the law and others threatened to stop their businesses in the state.
"I think this just shows you that what's taking place is a form of cronyism, it's cultural cronyism," Anderson said. "Big business is using their marketing freedom to deny little businesses and religious people their religious freedom."
What is clear though is that the backlash from last year's Supreme Court decision has brought religious freedom concerns to the forefront this spring.
Many Americans believe that the battle over gay rights versus protecting people's religious convictions is just beginning.
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