Court: Suit by St. Cloud couple opposed to filming same-sex weddings can continue

Supporters for Angel and Carl Larsen gather outside courthouse.
Angel and Carl Larsen and their supporters gathered outside the federal court building in St. Paul in October 2018.
Gabriel Kwan | MPR News file

Updated: 4:24 p.m. | Posted: 12:31 p.m.

A federal appeals court on Friday resurrected a lawsuit by two Minnesota filmmakers, who argue that their objection to filming same-sex weddings should be protected under First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of religion.

Carl and Angel Larsen own a media production company in St. Cloud. In 2016, they sued the state of Minnesota, claiming a state law prohibiting discrimination conflicts with their personal religious views.

A district court judge dismissed their case in 2017. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit’s claims of free speech and free exercise of religion.

Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, represented the Larsens. He called the decision a “significant win.”

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“The government shouldn’t have the power to force people to force people to express messages that violate their beliefs regardless of what their beliefs are,” Tedesco said. “This is a protection that’s good for the Larsens and protects them from being forced to express messages that violate their religious convictions. But it protects everyone as well."

The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether to grant the Larsens a preliminary injunction.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the law, condemned the court decision, saying it “marks a shocking reversal of Minnesota’s evolution toward equality for LGBTQ people.”

“With this perversion of the First Amendment, the majority sanctions a policy of ‘No gays allowed,’” Ellison said in a statement Friday. “A ruling that lets a business discriminate against LGBTQ folks today would let it discriminate on the basis of religion, race, gender, ability, or any other category it chooses tomorrow.”

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

In a statement, the department said it’s “deeply disappointed” by the split decision.

“Minnesota is not in the business of creating second-class community members in our state,” said Department Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “Time and again, Minnesotans have chosen love and inclusion in our communities in order to build a state where our laws lift up our beautiful and complex identities, not hold them down.”

The Human Rights Department said it’s working with the Attorney General’s Office to explore all legal options.