MN video company argues it shouldn't be forced to do work for same-sex marriages

The lawsuit argues the Minnesota Human Rights Act forces the St. Cloud company's owners to violate their religious beliefs.
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The Larsens, Angel and Carl, have a video production company in St. Cloud.

They like doing weddings under their small business, Telescope Media Group. It gives them a chance to "use their unique vision and skills to tell stories" that are effective and impactful.

They're also "Bible-believing Christians," and those beliefs are "central to their identity, their understanding of existence, and their conception of their personal dignity and autonomy."

So they shouldn't be forced by law to do so for same-sex marriages – something that promotes marriage in a way that "directly contradicts their religious beliefs."

That (and the other quotes above) are from a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of the Larsens. They're suing the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, as well as Minnesota's attorney general. They argue the state's human rights protections are unfair, and amount to possible criminal charges for people who simply disagree with the government.

Minnesota's Human Rights Act says businesses that provide services and goods can't deny a customer service based on "race, color, creed, religion, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, or status with regard to public assistance."

The lawsuit's case

The full lawsuit (you can find it here) is about 48 pages, and makes a few different arguments. There's also the above video produced by Alliance Defending Freedom about the Larsens. Here's a general rundown:

The Larsens believe strongly in God and the Bible. And part of their belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman specifically. The way the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has wielded the law "forces the Larsens to produce videos promoting a conception of marriage that directly contradicts their religious beliefs," the suit says.

The suit clarifies the Larsens don't have a problem with LGBTQ people or gay marriage. But they believe, under their religion, they should only do things that celebrate marriage the way the Bible has it – between a man and a woman only. Creating a video celebrating same-sex marriage would essentially violate their religious beliefs.

At one point, the suit says the Larsens specifically want to "counteract the current cultural narrative" with gay marriage.

But because of the way the law is set up and enforced, if the Larsens do videos promoting male-female marriages, they have to do so for same-sex marriages too – or face fines, possibly jail time.

"The Larsens simply desire to use their unique storytelling and promotional talents to convey messages that promote aspects of their sincerely-held religious beliefs, or that at least are not inconsistent with them," the complaint says.

It also argues similar businesses get to promote their view of same-sex marriage when they support the government's stance (so a company on its site can write something like, "We are so happy that marriage includes everybody now!"). But companies such as Telescope are barred from expressing their view of marriage (that is, between a man and woman only).

In addition, a business that has publicly said it doesn't agree with same-sex marriage would violate the Human Rights Act if it declined customers based on religious beliefs; but if the business simply said it was too busy, or didn't have the skill to do the project, that would be a "legitimate business purpose," and they wouldn't get in trouble, the suit claims.

This lawsuit is pre-emptive. Telescope hasn't gotten into trouble, but there is a wedding show coming up, and the Larsens want to advertise their services – and need to know what they're allowed to do.

A spokesperson with the Department of Human Rights said there are no closed cases involving Telescope Media Group or either of the Larsens.

Response from the Department of Human Rights

Kevin Lindsey, the Commissioner of Human Rights, said in a statement they've gotten the lawsuit, and – while they're still reviewing it – expect to prevail in court, and keep sexual orientation protected under the Human Rights Act.

"This lawsuit is part of a pattern of nationwide litigation that is now aimed at eroding the rights of LGBTQ Minnesotans," Lindsey said. "The Administration is committed to ensuring that all individuals within the LGBTQ community are treated fairly and with respect."

Alliance Defending Freedom has filed lawsuits like this in the past. The group says it advocates for the rights of people "to freely live out their faith."

Mother Jones described the group as a "deep-pocketed network of lawyers" that have filed dozens of such lawsuits around the country, and says they've been involved in 47 legal victories against the U.S. Supreme Court. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the alliance a fierce opponent of gay rights.

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