Lawsuit opposing Minnesota same-sex marriage video law is revived

by Reuters
Friday, 23 August 2019 15:10 GMT

A box of cupcakes are seen topped with icons of same-sex couples at City Hall in San Francisco, June 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

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By Jonathan Stempel

Aug 23 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit by a Minnesota couple challenging a state law requiring that their video production company film same-sex weddings, saying it violates their Christian beliefs.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, said Angel and Carl Larsen can pursue claims that the law violates their constitutional rights to free speech and to freely exercise their religious beliefs.

It ordered U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis, who had dismissed the lawsuit in September 2017, to decide whether the Larsens and their company, Telescope Media Group, deserve a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the law, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for the Larsens were not immediately available for comment.

The case is among several in recent years where private business owners or individuals invoked their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.

In June, for example, the Washington Supreme Court ruled for a second time against a Christian florist for refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding, setting up a potential clash at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in 2015 cited her beliefs in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013, and nationwide in 2015.

The Larsens said their goals included to "use their talents and their company" to honor God, including by producing wedding videos promoting marriage as a "sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman."

Minnesota, however, said the Larsens had to produce videos of same-sex weddings as well as opposite-sex weddings, or else produce none.

In Friday's decision, Circuit Judge David Stras said the Larsens could try to show that their videos carried their "own message," which Minnesota's law interfered with "by requiring them to say something they otherwise would not."

Stras, an appointee of President Donald Trump, distinguished antidiscrimination laws targeting conduct and only incidentally affecting speech, calling it "unquestionably" acceptable to require an employer to remove a "White Applicants Only" sign.

"Here, by contrast, Minnesota is targeting speech itself," he wrote.

Circuit Judge Jane Kelly dissented, saying the majority's approach could support treating customers differently based on sex, race, religion and disability.

"Nothing stops a business owner from using today's decision to justify new forms of discrimination tomorrow," she wrote. "In this country's long and difficult journey to combat all forms of discrimination, the court's ruling represents a major step backward."

The case is Telescope Media Group et al v Lucero, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-3352.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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