A Christian couple looking to add wedding videos to their business repertoire is suing the state of Minnesota after official there made it clear that their laws require anyone working as a wedding vendor to accommodate same-sex couples.
Carl and Angel Larsen operate Telescope Media Group. In a statement provided by their attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, the Larsens contend their business “exists to tell great stories that honor God.”
It also points out the couple is expanding into wedding video services to “reanimate the hearts and minds of people about the goodness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
But the state of Minnesota is placing a major hurdle in front of their business plans.
“They’re unable to do so because the state says if they do them for marriages that are consistent with their beliefs – marriages between a man and a woman – they have to do them on behalf of same-sex marriages as well,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco, who is lead counsel for Telescope Media Group in this case.
The state is relying on an updated version of it’s Human Rights Act to force vendors into accepting clients for all legal forms.
“The law bars discrimination on a whole bunch of different categories and the state has added sexual orientation to the law. But [the state] has also announced that it interprets the law to require people in the wedding industry to promote concepts of marriage, including same-sex marriage, that they disagree with, even if that violate their religious beliefs,” said Tedesco.
“The state has put that on official websites. They’ve announced that in various different places. They’ve basically put people on notice. They’re looking out for faithful Christians in the wedding industry, and they’re going to prosecute them if they act in a manner that’s consistent with their beliefs when it comes to marriage,” said Tedesco.
Punishment for wedding vendors refusing to accept same-sex clients can be up to 90 days in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Tedesco says a pre-emptive lawsuit was clearly needed.
“No one in their right mind , when 90 days in jail is on the line and the state is saying the exercise of your first amendment rights could wind you up in jail is going to exercise their rights. They chilled their expression. They go to court to try to get a judgment from the court before that even happens,” said Tedesco.
“Rather than take that risk, Carl and Angel filed a lawsuit to try to get the court to say that it was unlawful for the state to even apply the law to force them to say things they don’t want to say through their films,” said Tedesco.
Tedesco says the Minnesota Human Rights Act is a blatant violation of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“These kind of pre-enforcement challenges are something that’s been used for years in the civil rights context,” he said.
“When laws like this go on the books, the state is saying, ‘We’re going to apply this to expression,’ the courts are very concerned and they’ve said many times in opinions they’ve issued in this area that people will respond to those laws simply by stopping their speech, chilling their expression. Then everybody loses,” said Tedesco.
Right now the court is weighing competing motions. Officials from Minnesota are asking for the case to be dismissed. The Larsens are asking to be able to video wedding of their choice until the issue is resolved in court.
Tedesco says Minnesota is among a growing number of states being pressured by liberal politicians and activists to forbid vendors from acting on their consciences.
“There are activists on the left that are pushing very, very hard for these same kind of laws to be adopted in states that don’t have them. There’s at least 20 states that have them right now and they want all 50 states to have them. They want the federal government to have them,” said Tedesco.
“Those activists say there are no compromises. You have to comply with the law. Speech is not a defense. Your speech can be compelled. You can be forced to speak and act in ways that are completely inconsistent with your core beliefs,” said Tedesco.
“This is very problematic in the marriage context right now. These laws adding sexual orientation to non-discrimination laws are the tools the other side uses to coerce uniformity of thought and belief when it comes to the marriage institution,” he said.