Metro Weekly

Iowa couple plans to erect 1,000 anti-gay marriage billboards

This billboard touting the traditional definition of marriage is one of 1,000 that God's Original Design Ministry plans to erect across the nation. (Credit: God's Original Design Ministry, via Facebook.)
This billboard touting the traditional definition of marriage is one of 1,000 that God’s Original Design Ministry plans to erect across the nation. (Credit: God’s Original Design Ministry, via Facebook.)

It’s one down, 999 to go for an Iowa couple who closed their business rather than host gay weddings. The couple, Richard and Bettty Odgaard, are not budging from their opposition to gay marriage, saying they plan to erect 1,000 billboards throughout the county advertising their belief in upholding “traditional” marriage.

According to The Des Moines Register, a Des Moines gay couple filed a complaint in 2013 against the Odgaards, the owners of Gortz Haus, a bistro and art gallery in Grimes, Iowa, after the Odgaards refused to rent their venue to the couple for a same-sex marriage ceremony. That complaint was eventually settled, with the Odgaards agreeing to pay the couple $5,000 and agreeing not to discriminate against same-sex couples. To avoid a similar situation, the Odgaards chose not to offer wedding services to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation. As a result, they claim they lost revenue and were forced to close their business.

Since then, the Odgaards have started their own nonprofit organization, known as God’s Original Design Ministry. The goal of God’s Original Design Ministry is to “advance Christian teachings, Biblical ordinances and natural laws as God intended.” The ministry also claims to provide “a platform for God fearing people to stand tall and proud in defense of God’s Original Design and to give a voice to the ‘silent majority.'”

On its website, God’s Original Design Ministry asks visitors who support traditional marriage to print out various fliers, each with a different message “signed” by “God” that promotes “traditional” marriage. The website asks those who download and print out the fliers to distribute them in their local communities by putting them on people’s windshields.

In addition to flier distribution, the ministry also asks visitors to donate money that will be used to take the Odgaards’ message to various media outlets, including radio, TV, social media, print advertising and billboards. The goal, they say, is to erect 1,000 billboards representing “1,000 points of light” in various cities throughout the country, to spread the news that God intends for marriage to be between one man and one woman. 

According to the ministry’s Facebook page, the first billboard of 1,000 already went up on July 24, five miles south of Durant, Okla., in July. It measures 14 feet by 48 feet, and features a black sign with white text reading: “Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman. Please…I need your help with this! -God.” The billboard also provides a link to the ministry’s official website. In the Facebook post, the Odgaards posted a picture of the billboard and wrote: “One down and 999 to go for 1,000 points of light. Thank you and God bless!”

As a result of their strong stance against same-sex marriage, the Odgaards have also become mini-celebrities among social conservatives. They are slated to appear at a “Rally for Religious Liberty” hosted by Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has pointed to them as victims of “liberal fascism,” and will also speak at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Des Moines in November.

But Betty Odgaard also told The Des Moines Register that the billboard campaign and the other actions of God’s Original Design Ministry are not part of a campaign against the gay community. “It certainly isn’t coming from a hateful place,” she said. “What I’m most frustrated with is that it’s viewed as being hateful. And that’s the last thing that I want to convey. It’s just that we want to hold up the Biblical view of marriage.”

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