Betty Odegaard

Republicans in the Iowa Senate are preparing legislation that would give new legal protections to Iowans who refuse services to customers for religious reasons. Iowa business groups warn the discussion could hurt employee recruitment and might prompt the NCAA to avoid Des Moines as a venue for tournaments.

A couple from Grimes who denied a same-sex couple the use of their business for a wedding testified today during a statehouse hearing on the bill. Betty Odegaard and her husband closed their wedding chapel rather than be forced to make it available to same-sex couples.

“If this law would have been in place, we would have had our day to argue in court,” she said. “…It doesn’t mean it would have had our way, but we would have at least had a chance and we did not have a chance to argue our case.”

Representatives of Iowa business groups forcefully argued against the bill during the hearing. Tim Coonan of the Principal Financial Group said it paints Iowa in a negative light.

“Legislation like this, even the mere discussion of legislation like this, has a clear chilling effect on our ability to recruit from around the country and around the world,” Coonan said.

Others argued the bill would open the door to discrimination based on race, disability, sexual orientation or gender that is now barred by the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee indicated the bill has a strong chance of getting that panel’s approval this week.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)