Minnesota filmmakers’ lawsuit over gay weddings reinstated

Published 7:14 am Saturday, August 24, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit filed by two Minnesota filmmakers who want the right to refuse to film same-sex weddings, saying that videos are a form of speech with constitutional protections under the First Amendment

Carl and Angel Larsen, who run a Christian business called Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud, sued the state’s human rights commissioner in 2016, saying Minnesota’s public accommodation law would result in steep fines and jail time if they offered services promoting only their vision of marriage.

A federal judge dismissed the case two years ago. But a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision Friday. The panel sent the case back to the lower court with instructions to consider a preliminary injunction that would allow the Larsens to operate their business without fear of being found in violation of Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, the Star Tribune reported.

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Judge David Stras, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, wrote in Friday’s opinion that wedding videos involve editorial judgment and control and “constituted a media for the communication of ideas.”

He said the Constitution’s First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say.

Judge Jane Kelly issued a dissenting opinion.

“That the service the Larsens want to make available to the public is expressive does not transform Minnesota’s law into a content-based regulation, nor should it empower the Larsens to discriminate against prospective customers based on sexual orientation,” Kelly wrote.

The state Department of Human Rights said it is disappointed by the decision and working with the attorney general’s office to explore its legal options.

“Minnesota is not in the business of creating second-class community members in our state,” the agency’s commissioner, Rebecca Lucero, said in a statement. “Time and again, Minnesotans have chosen love and inclusion in our communities in order to build a state where our laws lift up our beautiful and complex identities, not hold them down.”

In a statement, Carl Larsen said he and his wife “serve everyone. We just can’t produce films promoting every message.”

“We are thankful the court recognized that government officials can’t force religious believers to violate their beliefs to pursue their passion,” Larsen said. “This is a win for everyone, regardless of your beliefs.”

The Larsens had the backing of attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative Christian legal group. The 8th Circuit heard their appeal months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for a Colorado backer who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.