A lawsuit challenging Minnesota's nondiscrimination laws can move forward after a federal appeals court gave a green light to a Christian videographer couple who want to refuse to serve same-sex clients.
The couple in question are Carl and Angel Larsen, owners of Telescope Media Group. In their suit, filed in 2016, the Larsens object to a state law that requires businesses to treat consumers fairly regardless of race, religion, age, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics.
The Larsens are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal activism group that frequently intervenes in cases to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people. ADF attorneys were also active in a Colorado case involving a baker who turned away same-sex couples and a Washington case involving a florist who sought to do the same.
The panel that allowed the Minnesota lawsuit to proceed was strongly divided.
Trump-appointee Judge David Stras wrote that wedding videos act as a medium for the "communication of ideas" and that the First Amendment should allow businesses to refuse to engage with communication they find objectionable, even if the reasoning is based on prejudice. According to Stras, producing gay wedding videos "compels the Larsens to speak favorably of same-sex marriage."
But Judge Jane Kelly called that interpretation a "major step backward" in "this country's long and difficult journey to combat all forms of discrimination." She said the Larsens' argument could be used to descriminate on the basis of sex, race, or religion.
"And what may start in the wedding business -- 'we don't do interracial weddings,' 'we don't film Jewish ceremonies,' and so on -- likely will not end there," Kelly wrote. "Nothing stops a business owner from using today's decision to justify new forms of discrimination tomorrow."
Stras has a history of troubling rulings. When marriage equality was on the ballot in Minnesota, he ruled that the ballot proposal could have a partisan title written by Republican lawmakers that could have skewed the vote, rather than a neutral one written by the Secretary of State. Minnesotans ultimately voted in favor of marriage equality.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a strongly-worded response to the ruling, calling it a "perversion of the First Amendment" and "a shocking reversal of Minnesota's evolution toward equality for [LGBTQ+] people."
This is far from the end for the Larsens' case -- it's only a preliminary ruling to determine whether the lawsuit can proceed. The case now returns to District Court, where Chief Judge John Tunheim will decide how the couple's business is allowed to operate while the lawsuit is in progress.
Tunheim previously expressed skepticism of the Larsens' case, calling it "conduct akin to a 'White Applicants Only' sign."