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Telescope Media Group, a religious video production company run by husband and wife team Carl and Angel Larson, is suing to overturn Minnesota’s laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The St. Cloud-based duo claims that the 1993 Minnesota Human Rights Act could violate their religious beliefs if a same-sex couple asks them to create a video for their wedding.

The lawsuit was filed by lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious right legal outfit opposed to LGBTQ rights. Minnesota attorney Renee Carlson is also on the court filing. She’s been actively opposing LGBTQ rights at least since 2014. In September, she helped parents file a lawsuit against a Virginia, Minn., school district because they district had implemented transgender-inclusive policies. Additionally, one of the attorneys for ADF, Jordan Lorence, is a former attorney for the Minnesota Family Council, a group that in recent years compared LGBTQ people to criminals and people who engage in sex with animals.

The lawsuit states:

Because the Larsens believe that every human is made in the image of God and is loved by God, they gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification… The Larsens simply desire to use their unique storytelling and promotional talents to convey messages that promote aspects of their sincerely-held religious beliefs, or that at least are not inconsistent with them. It is standard practice for the owners of video and film production companies to decline to produce videos that contain or promote messages that the owners do not want to support or that violate or compromise their beliefs in some way.

Among other things, the Larsens will decline any request to design and create media productions that: contradict biblical truth; promote sexual immorality; support the destruction of unborn children; promote racism or racial division; incite violence; degrade women; or promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman…

The Larson’s online presence thus far doesn’t indicate that they’ve done any wedding videos for any type of couple. Instead, the duo have done work primarily for conservative religious movements, music events, and simple animations.

The lawsuit asks the courts to invalidate Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, the first in the nation to include both sexual orientation and gender identity:

1. Preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to stop Defendants and any person acting in concert with them from enforcing Minnesota Statutes Annotated § 363A.11(1) and § 363A.17(3) as-applied to Plaintiffs’ business of producing video productions (a) promoting CASE marriage exclusively as an institution between one man and one woman, and (b) declining to create video productions that express ideas that conflict with their beliefs about marriage;

2. A declaration that Minnesota Statutes Annotated § 363A.11(1) and §363A.17(3) violate the United States Constitution’s Freedom of Speech Clause, Free Exercise of Religion Clause, Due Process Clause, and Equal Protection Clause as applied to Plaintiffs’ desired communications (a) promoting marriage exclusively as an institution between one man and one woman, and (b) declining to create video productions that express ideas that conflict with their beliefs about marriage;

Sen. Scott Dibble noted on Facebook that this lawsuit may spurn conservative lawmakers to advance anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“Though a court case, it will be used to justify legislation in the upcoming session. The incoming Senate Republican majority leader has advanced license-to-discriminate bills justified by ‘sincerely held religious beliefs,’ he wrote. “It is an opening salvo in what will be numerous attacks on those in minority and politically less strong communities…people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, women, those struggling with poverty. Enjoying religious freedom and liberty does not allow anyone to demean or deny others their right to be fully equal when operating in the public sphere.”

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka authored legislation last year to allow religious conservatives to deny service to LGBTQ people. That bill did not get a vote in the DFL-controlled Senate. That Senate may likely change hands to Republicans in 2017 pending the results of a recount in the St. Cloud area.

Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay, who is charged with enforcing Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, released a statement on Tuesday stating:

We received information indicating that a federal lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for Minnesota challenging the ability of the Department to enforce the provisions of Minnesota Human Rights Act relating to sexual orientation in business and public accommodations.

While we are still reviewing the filing, we anticipate that we will prevail in District Court and that sexual orientation will remain protected under the Act. This 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.

Here’s the lawsuit:

Download (PDF, 288KB)

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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