The next round of a St. Cloud couple's legal bid to provide wedding video services only to heterosexual couples is going back to where it began three years ago.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said late Wednesday that they would defend the state in federal district court rather than appeal a recent decision by an appellate court panel that revived the suit, saying the makeup of the full Eighth U.S. Circuit Court and U.S. Supreme Court made it unlikely they would win.
Carl and Angel Larsen run Telescope Media Group, a Christian videography business that they want to expand into filming weddings. But because they don't want to serve gay or lesbian couples, they filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the state's human rights commissioner in 2016 in advance of running afoul of the state's anti-discrimination laws.
Minnesota's chief federal judge dismissed their suit a year later, but the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of two claims on free speech and free exercise grounds in a 2-1 decision in August.
Judge David Stras, writing for the panel's majority, found that the state would violate the Larsens' free speech rights if it penalized them over what he described as editorial judgment. Dissenting Judge Jane Kelly wrote that the decision would pave the way for other businesses to "treat customers differently based on any protected characteristic, including sex, race, religion, or disability."
On Thursday, Ellison and Lucero agreed not to enforce the Minnesota Human Rights Act against the Larsens' "business of producing films (a) promoting marriage exclusively as an institution between one man and one woman, and (b) declining to create films that express ideas that conflict with their beliefs about marriage," while the litigation continued.
In a Star Tribune op-ed on Thursday, Ellison and Lucero argued that the Larsens' right to believe what they want is already protected and that they are asking for "a license to discriminate against LGBTQ folks that could open up a can of worms for everyone." Ellison and Lucero also wanted to avoid continuing an appellate fight over a case that so far does not involve a challenge of the actual enforcement of the state's laws.
"What we want to do is let's pull this case back down to ground, let's make this case more realistic and let's get some facts … rather than this theoretical law-review type conversation that the plaintiffs want to have," Ellison said in an interview.
The Larsens are being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative legal group that has helped defend cases like the Colorado baker who successfully sued over the right to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco has described the Larsens' case as affirmation that the government cannot "force people to express messages that violate their deepest convictions."
"We look forward to securing a final victory that prevents the state from using its power to banish people of faith from the public square," Tedesco said in a statement Thursday.
Stephen Montemayor 612-673-1755