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Refusing to film same-sex weddings a free speech issue, MN business tell court

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Supporters for Angel and Carl Larsen gather outside courthouse.
Supporters for Angel and Carl Larsen gather outside the Warren E. Burger Federal Court Building.
Gabriel Kwan | MPR News

A federal appeals court on Tuesday heard arguments in the case of two St. Cloud, Minn., filmmakers  who argue their objection to filming same-sex marriages is grounded in the First Amendment.

Carl and Angel Larsen sued the state in December 2016, claiming a Minnesota nondiscrimination law that requires them to provide service to same-sex couples conflicts with their personal religious views. Their case was dismissed by a district court in September 2017.

The couple's attorney, Jeremy Tedesco, said the state statute violates the Larsens' constitutional rights. He framed the act of filmmaking as speech and said that forcing the Larsens to tell stories contrary to their religious views infringes upon their freedom of speech.

"The creation of films is pure speech, it's fully protected by the First Amendment," Tedesco said. "So, what the state proposes to do under these limited circumstances is force someone to express a message they disagree with about marriage."

Tedesco went on to clarify that the Larsens are not challenging the validity of the statute but are looking instead for a court order that prohibits the state from prosecuting them for discrimination.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights argued that the act of refusing service to same-sex couples can be seen as discrimination.

"Everyone should have the right to be protected under the law when they buy goods and services," said Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.

Lindsey drew parallels between the potential discrimination present in the Larsens' denial of service to the discrimination interracial couples faced in the past.

"The [event] that we could segregate out and say that for certain individuals we won't recognize their ability to become married is significant, and... could be detrimental to all," he said.