Judge: Business Turning Away Same-Sex Couples Is Like Saying 'Whites Only'

Angel and Carl Larsen

For a business to turn away same-sex couples is “conduct akin a “White Applicants Only” sign, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

John Tunheim, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, made the ruling in a lawsuit brought by the owners of a wedding video business, who claimed that the state’s antidiscrimination law infringed on their First Amendment rights to religious and artistic freedom, the Associated Press reports.

Carl and Angel Larsen of St. Cloud, Minn., had sued the state for the right to refuse service to same-sex couples at their business, Telegraph Media Group. They wanted to post a notice on their website saying their wouldn’t create videos of same-sex weddings because of their religious beliefs. The Minnesota antidiscrimination law amounted to “a state effort to stamp out expression opposing same-sex marriage,” their suit contended.

In dismissing their suit, Tunheim made the “White Applicants Only” comparison and wrote, “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. As conduct carried out through language, this act is not protected by the First Amendment.”

Most of the legal cases in this area have been suits brought by same-sex couples who have been turned away by wedding-related businesses, but the Larsens decided to take preemptive action, Carl Larsen wrote in a Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed in December. Requiring his business to create videos celebrating unions he and his wife don’t endorse is like the government telling Alfred Hitchcock that “political correctness demanded that he start making musicals” in addition to suspense films or telling Steven Spielberg that having made Jaws, he had to make a movie about dolphins as well.

The Larsens will appeal Tunheim’s ruling, said attorney Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing legal group representing them. “Tolerance is a two-way street,” he said in a statement. “Creative professionals who engage in the expression of ideas shouldn't be threatened with fines and jail simply for having a particular point of view about marriage that the government may not favor.”

The ADF is involved in several similar cases. It is representing Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who was found to have violated Colorado antidiscrimination law for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, in his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court will hear his case during its upcoming term.

The group also represents florist Barronelle Stutzman, who is appealing a ruling that she violated Washington State law by declining to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding. It has asked the Supreme Court to hear her case, but the court has yet to say if it will.

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