We’ve been writing about the news coverage of the wedding-cake wars for some time, by which I mean lawsuits filed by gay couples against bakers, photographers, wedding venue owners and anyone else whose religious beliefs clash with same-sex marriage.
A few years ago, one of these vendors –- a St. Cloud, Minn., couple that does wedding videos -– saw the Masterpiece Cakeshop U.S. Supreme Court case involving Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and read the tea leaves. Phillips could be them. They did a preemptive lawsuit asking for the right to not have to film events that were against their religious beliefs.
The courts kept on rejecting them until very recently. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says what happened next.
A three-judge federal appeals court panel cleared the way Friday for a St. Cloud couple suing Minnesota over the right to refuse to film same-sex weddings, arguing that the videos are a form of speech subject to First Amendment protections.
Carl and Angel Larsen, who run a Christian videography business called Telescope Media Group, filed a federal suit in 2016 against Minnesota's human rights commissioner, saying the state's public accommodation law could hit them with steep fines or jail time if they offered services promoting only their vision of marriage.
Writing for the panel's 2-1 majority, Judge David Stras, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, found A the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, and that their free speech rights would be violated should their business be penalized under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
The Associated Press also covered this story:
Judge Jane Kelly issued a dissenting opinion.
“That the service the Larsens want to make available to the public is expressive does not transform Minnesota’s law into a content-based regulation, nor should it empower the Larsens to discriminate against prospective customers based on sexual orientation,” Kelly wrote.
However, the Larsens weren’t saying they wouldn’t video gay people as a group; they were saying they wouldn’t film gay wedding rites. There’s a difference — compelled speech is a First Amendment issue, along with religious liberty — and AP could have noted that. It’s a point that Jack Phillips made over and over again; not that anyone was listening.
Carl Larsen issued a statement saying he and his wife “serve everyone. We just can’t produce films promoting every message.”
“We are thankful the court recognized that government officials can’t force religious believers to violate their beliefs to pursue their passion,” Larsen said. “This is a win for everyone, regardless of your beliefs.”
David French made the same point in this National Review piece:
There are those who will claim that this decision will clear the way for wholesale discrimination in the name of “free speech.” It will do no such thing. Instead it will protect a small minority of creative professionals who do not discriminate against any member of any protected class from being conscripted into saying things they do not believe.
The Minneapolis-based City Pages didn’t hesitate to make its views known in this opinion piece. The headline: “St. Cloud wedding videographers sue to discriminate against gay couples” kinda tells you where they’re coming from, no? A caption to an accompanying photo states: “Angel and Carl Larsen's suit could bring a new version of the Old South to Minnesota, allowing religious supremacy to be used to refuse all manner of services.”
Guess those ‘ole South folks and the Ku Klux Klan are just around the corner.
The year after the lawsuit was filed, the Washington Post said in 2017 the suit was part of a larger legal strategy by the “powerhouse conservative group” that argued the Phillips case. That would be the Alliance Defending Freedom.
In Phillips’ case, the offended gay couple did the suing. In this case, the videographers were basing their suit on a hypothetical event that had not occurred. Were they doing it to buy time for their business? To help the ADF build up case law?
Wish there was a profile out there of this couple we could refer to. The Star-Tribune should have been on that story.
One thing that didn’t get covered in any of the media accounts was the part of the Minnesota Human Rights Act that the Larsens’ lawsuit is based on. The Larsens alleged the wording of the law obligated them to actually come up with a pro-same-sex wedding content if they were producing pieces showing opposite-sex weddings. After looking at the actual lawsuit, I am puzzled how the law can be read to mean this.
The lawsuit says that the state employs “testers” to go after businesses that don’t agree with gay weddings and that one vendor had already been pounced upon by its agents. So, did the Larsens guess that the state was on the warpath and that they’d best be proactive rather than hiding out and hoping no homosexuals came by to ask for a wedding video?
Their company is obviously a small one and the video atop this post states they are planning to go into the wedding video business. They aren’t doing it yet. Did they sense they’d be smoked out sooner than later by a predatory couple looking for an excuse to sue under the excuse of wanting their wedding filmed? Did they want to control the narrative instead of having the story be all about a jilted pair of lovers who were turned down by a Christian film company?
Hard to say and maybe we’ll never know. It’s too bad that no one got to these folks during the three years they’ve been waiting around while this lawsuit progressed. At this point, the opportunity for the defining story may well be gone with the wind.