Telescope Media Group in St. Paul, Minnesota was in court this week, preparing to begin yet another fight in the gay marriage wars. Reminiscent of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case which wound up going all the way to the Supreme Court, the couple that owns Telescope Media Group, Carl and Angel Larsen, are arguing that they can’t be forced to make a wedding video for a same-sex couple. The short version of this story is simply… here we go again. (CBS Minnesota)
A St. Cloud couple went before a federal appeals court in St. Paul Tuesday morning arguing their video business has a right to refuse to make videos for same sex marriages.
Carl and Angel Larsen are appealing a lower court ruling that said their refusal to serve same-sex couples is discriminatory.
The couple says their wedding videos are works of art and compelling them to make a work of art they disagree with violates their First Amendment rights.
“We are asking the court to uphold our freedom of speech and expression,” Carl Larsen said.
The group Alliance Defending Freedom (or ADF, who successfully defended Masterpiece Cakeshop) is now representing Telescope Media. That makes the parallels between the two cases even more compelling.
Here’s the strange part of the story. In previous cases like this, the action was kicked off when a same-sex couple attempted to obtain services from a baker, photographer or other provider and were refused. This always makes want to immediately check into the background of the lawsuit because, in the competitive industry of wedding service providers, there’s absolutely no reason that any couple, gay or straight, should be unable to find someone to bake them a cake, rent them a hall or create a photo album.
The market is flooded with competing providers and that industry isn’t exactly known for being unfriendly to the gay community. Usually, it turns out to be a case of an activist couple asking every provider in the region for a quote until somebody turns them down. They are actively looking for someone to sue and force them into compliance or out of business in most cases.
That’s not what we’re seeing here. As ADF points out on their website, Telescope Media Group hasn’t even begun making wedding videos yet so they don’t even offer the service. They’re attempting a preemptive strike in the courts before somebody sues them.
Fortunately, Americans don’t have to wait to be punished or thrown in jail before challenging unjust laws. Instead, they can file a pre-enforcement challenge, which is exactly what the Larsens have chosen to do. They have filed a lawsuit before entering the wedding field, seeking a court order that says Minnesota cannot threaten them with severe penalties and jail time if they exercise their First Amendment right to decline to promote a message with which they disagree. Until they get a favorable ruling, the Larsens are refraining from making wedding films and muzzling their speech about God’s design for marriage to avoid the severe penalties for violating Minnesota’s law.
So can the Larsens prevail here? You’ll recall that the Masterpiece Cakeshop case was decided in a very limited fashion, leaving the door open for lower courts to decide similar disputes on a case-by-case basis. (Or perhaps that should be “cake-by-cake basis.” I’ll just get my hat.) Decorating an elaborate wedding cake by hand is definitely an art and the courts seem to agree. Is making a video art? Still photography has long been recognized as an art form and moviemaking is also. In that regard, I suppose wedding videos can be considered in the same light.
The bigger question may be whether or not the creation of a wedding video (or a photo album for that matter) constitutes “taking part in the ceremony.” Making a wedding cake can easily be seen as “participating” in the ceremony and celebration since it’s such a unique part of the tradition. I’m not entirely sure the same can be said for photography, but I suppose we’ll have to let the courts sort that out. If this one does go all the way to the Supreme Court, we may learn whether or not Masterpiece Cakeshop can stand up as precedent and just how this new 5-4 conservative majority is going to roll on social justice issues.