A Minnesota couple with a video company wants to make it their official policy: Gay couples can take their business elsewhere.
Carl and Angel Larsen of St. Cloud are suing the state for the right to deny service to LGBTQ customers. The couple, who run a film company that does not currently advertise wedding services, say the state’s anti-discrimination laws would infringe on their freedom of speech, in the event that they were ever asked to film a same-sex wedding. Their suit is backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an explicitly anti-gay, anti-trans, organization with a conservative Christian agenda.
In order to safeguard themselves from the possibility of ever being asked to film a same-sex wedding, the Larsens are trying to overturn state laws that protect Minnesota’s LGBTQ community from discrimination.
The Larsens are not currently in the wedding photography business. They run Telescope Media Group (tagline: “We want to magnify Christ like a telescope”) a small production firm that currently advertises commercial event filming. They want to enter the (heterosexual-only) wedding business, because they feel that “governments across the country and other powerful cultural forces are punishing and marginalizing people who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman,” ADF wrote on its website.
But the wedding industry is a problem for the Larsens, because gay people can get married, and the couple fears they might be asked to film gay weddings.
“The Larsens’ desire to enter the wedding cinematography field has hit a huge obstacle—a speech coercing state law,” the ADF wrote of Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws on its website. “According to Minnesota officials, the State’s Human Rights Act mandates that if the Larsens make films celebrating marriage between one man and one woman, then they must make films celebrating same-sex marriages as well.”
Minnesota’s Human Rights Act does not require filmmakers to cover same-sex weddings, despite the ADF’s insinuation that it does. Instead, it makes it illegal for businesses “to intentionally refuse to do business… because of a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, or disability, unless the alleged refusal or discrimination is because of a legitimate business purpose.”
There is no legitimate business reason for refusing service to LGBTQ people, but the ADF has made anti-gay lawsuits a lucrative business.
The ADF is a lavishly funded organization, with fingerprints on some of the most controversial court rulings in recent years, including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the 2014 ruling that allowed for-profit corporations to claim religious beliefs and deny employees health care according to those beliefs. The group once sued on behalf of a student who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt that read “Be Ashamed” and “Homosexuality is Shameful.”
Their last reported annual revenue $61,864,483, some $430,000 of which went to the group’s president and CEO Alan Sears. Sears has co-authored the books The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today and The ACLU vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values.
The ADF brought a similar lawsuit on behalf of a wedding photographer who refused to photograph same-sex couples in 2013. A New Mexico court ruled against the photographer, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Minnesota officials pledged to take a similar stand against the new anti-gay lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is part of a pattern of nationwide litigation that is now aimed at eroding the rights of LGBTQ Minnesotans,” Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey told Minnesota’s Star Tribune, adding that the state would ensure “that sexual orientation will remain protected.”