Filmmakers Sue to Deny Service to Same-Sex Couples

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – The married owners of a video production company claim Minnesota violated their religious freedom by imposing significant penalties if they decline wedding service to same-sex couples.

Carl and Angel Larsen and their media production company, Telescope Media Group, sued Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, on Tuesday in Minnesota federal court.

According to the 48-page complaint, state officials have repeatedly said that private businesses violate the Minnesota Human Rights Act “if they decline to create expressive wedding-related services celebrating same-sex weddings.”

The couple says the state law forces them to produce videos promoting same-sex marriage that directly contradict their religious beliefs.

“The Larsens desire to counteract the current cultural narrative undermining the historic, biblically-orthodox definition of marriage by using their media production and filmmaking talents to tell stories of marriages between one man and one woman that magnify and honor God’s design and purpose for marriage,” the complaint states.

The couple says if they were to convey their own message about marriage, and decline to serve same-sex couples, they would face investigations and prosecutions by Lindsey and Swanson, and could be forced to pay up to $25,000 in civil penalties and damages.

They would also be guilty of a misdemeanor if they were found liable for discrimination under state law, according to the complaint.

The Larsens say that, because of the Minnesota law, they are “are refraining from exercising their First Amendment right to publicly promote their cinematic, story telling services for weddings and to film and tell stories that promote and magnify the historic, biblically-orthodox definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”

“The MHRA contains no guideline to govern the decisions of the defendants in applying and enforcing the ‘legitimate business purpose’ exception to prohibited forms of discrimination, thereby permitting defendants to use their unbounded discretion to punish disfavored speech and viewpoints,” the complaint states.

In May 2013, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota, and later that year the new law was enacted, prohibiting businesses from denying services to same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation.

Lindsey said in a statement Tuesday that the Larsens’ lawsuit “is part of a pattern of nationwide litigation that is now aimed at eroding the rights of LGBTQ Minnesotans.”

“The Dayton-Smith Administration is committed to ensuring that all individuals within the LGBTQ community are treated fairly and with respect,” he said.

The couple’s lawsuit is one of the first to challenge the state’s same-sex marriage law since it was passed three years ago.

The Larsens seeks a ruling that the Minnesota Human Rights Act violates their religious freedom and a court order enjoining the state from enforcing the law.

They are represented by Renee Carlson in St. Paul.

Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning gay marriage.

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