Minnesota Family Council decries settlement forcing Little Falls business to host gay wedding

Cole Frey and Adam Block
Cole Frey and Adam Block

Cole Frey and his fiance, Adam Block, wanted to have their wedding at LeBlanc's Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation in Little Falls. But when the business owner found out the wedding involved two dudes, they told the couple to look elsewhere.

Frey and Block informed officials in the state's Department of Human Rights about the situation. One of them contacted the Little Falls business pretending to want to schedule their own gay wedding there and received pretty much the same treatment Frey and Block did.

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Mpls attorney Josh Newville leading fight for marriage equality in South Dakota

That treatment violates the state's Human Rights Act, which as of 1993 barred businesses from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.

As a result, the state and LeBlanc's Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation have entered into a settlement "that requires the venue to pay the costs associated with the couple's wedding ceremony and reception," a release from the Department of Human Rights (MDHR) says.

"In addition, the venue's owners apologized to the couple and agreed to comply with the Minnesota Human Rights Act in their future business dealings," it continues.

In the release, Kevin Lindsey, the state's commissioner of human rights, says, "This is the first public accommodation case for the Department related to same-sex marriage, and it serves as a reminder that businesses may not deny services based on a person's sexual orientation just as they can't deny services on the basis of race or gender."

Even Paul Rogosheske, the lawyer representing LeBlanc's Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation, seems to acknowledge his client erred.

LeBlanc's Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation
LeBlanc's Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation

"We made a mistake and we corrected it as quickly as possible," Rogosheske says in the MDHR statement. "We did everything we could to remedy it. We wish them the best."

But the Minnesota Family Council, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit whose mission is "to strengthen the families of Minnesota by advancing biblical principles in the public arena," characterized the settlement as "unconstitutional."

(For more, click to page two.)

"Minnesota Family Council has been sounding the warning bell for over a year now that the same-sex 'marriage' law passed in 2013 fails to protect the freedom of conscience and religion rights guaranteed by both the federal and Minnesota constitutions," a Family Council release says. "The fact that the Human Rights Department is now enforcing this law in an unconstitutional manner against its own citizens is deeply troubling. Indeed, the Department began targeting Minnesota business owners shortly after the same-sex 'marriage' law passed, likely becoming the first Human Rights Department in a state with same-sex 'marriage' to explicitly announce their intent to punish business owners of faith."

In the release, John Helmberger, CEO of Minnesota Family Council, says, "This is a shameful example of government forcing citizens to accept the government's view of sexuality and marriage."

"People no longer believe the lie that same-sex 'marriage' is a 'live and let live' law here in Minnesota," he continues. "Minnesota business owners should not be forced to violate their faith in order to do business in this state."

But the MDHR statement spells out a key distinction between the same-sex marriage law and the Human Rights Act:

While the same-sex law passed by the Legislature in 2013 provides specific exemptions for religious entities from taking part in the solemnization of same-sex marriages, it does not exempt individuals, businesses, nonprofits, or the secular business activities of religious entities from non-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage.

Polling conducted earlier this year indicated that same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue. In sum, according to the poll, the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal didn't significantly impact the percentage of Minnesotans approving of the law, at least one year in.

Update -- More recent polling brought to our attention after this post was published indicates that the 2013 marriage equality law actually has resulted in more Minnesotans being okay with gay marriage. From Public Policy Polling's Minnesota survey conducted in June:

About a year after gay marriage became legal in the state, support for it has hit an all time high in our polling with 52% of voters in favor of it to only 40% who are opposed. In the immediate aftermath of its becoming legal we last year we found 49/45 support. The reason for the increased support may simply be that Minnesotans have found that gay marriage being legal isn't a big deal- 80% say it's either had a positive impact on their life or none at all, with just 20% claiming that it's been a negative thing.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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