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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 22, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 38
Federal judge upholds Minnesota Human Rights Act
Section One
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Federal judge upholds Minnesota Human Rights Act

Christian businesses must serve same-sex couples

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal judge in Minnesota has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state's Human Rights Act on the grounds that it interferes with the religious liberty of Christians who oppose same-sex marriage.

US District Judge John Tunheim ruled on September 20 that the Minnesota law was constitutional and did not infringe the First Amendment rights of Christians.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Carl and Angel Larsen, alleged that the state law amounted to 'a state effort to stamp out expression opposing same-sex marriage.'

The Larsens own Telescope Media Group, which they use to promote their Christian beliefs. They wanted to go into the business of videotaping weddings but serve only opposite-sex couples. Consequently, they filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota attorney general and the state's Commissioner of Human Rights in an attempt to preempt legal penalties for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which is forbidden under the state Human Rights Act.

The Larsens have said that they want to post a notice on their website of their intent to deny services to same-sex couples.

Judge Tunheim rejected their claims, however.

In his ruling, the judge said that posting a notice refusing services to same-sex couples was 'conduct akin to a 'White Applicants Only' sign' that may be outlawed without infringing on First Amendment rights.

'Posting language on a website telling potential customers that a business will discriminate based on sexual orientation is part of the act of sexual orientation discrimination itself,' Tunheim wrote.

'As conduct carried out through language, this act is not protected by the First Amendment.'

Tunheim went on to say that the Minnesota Human Rights Act forbids discrimination in the basic terms of an agreement, such as charging a higher price or declining services based on sexual orientation.

The Larsens must offer services to couples of all sexual orientations, the judge said, but they are not required to publish each video online, and he suggested that they could even post language on their site expressing opposition to same-sex marriage.

'The Larsens have an obvious, easy way to avoid hardship - the terms of their contracts are within their control, and state law does not compel them to contractually obligate themselves to post videos of same-sex weddings online,' Tunheim wrote in his 62-page opinion.

In a statement, Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said the Larsens were unable to demonstrate any infringement of their First Amendment rights.

'In the event an appeal is filed, the Dayton-Smith administration [Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith] will remain steadfast in ensuring that all people in Minnesota continue to be treated fairly by business owners,' Lindsey said.

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