SAN DIEGO - A San Diego judge ruled Thursday that a pro-gay marriage group can continue canvassing outside of Target stores in California.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton denied a request for a temporary injunction by the Minnesota-based retail giant, saying Target Corp. did not present enough evidence to show Canvass For A Cause volunteers have been harassing its customers.
Target was seeking to stop the volunteers from collecting signatures and donations in support of gay marriage.
In his ruling, Barton said the store entrances are considered a public forum under California law. He also warned the San Diego group to be respectful when it canvasses and to not impede the flow of traffic.
Canvass For A Cause director Tres Watson called the ruling a victory for not only his organization, but for free speech.
"I think this is a victory for every American that cherishes our fundamental values," Watson said.
A telephone message was left late Thursday afternoon for Target Corp. and its Los Angeles-based attorney David McDowell.
Rights advocates say the legal battle between Target and Canvass For A Cause could further strain the retailer's relations with the gay and lesbian community. Target previously made a $150,000 donation to a business group backing a Minnesota Republican candidate opposed to gay marriage.
Target insists it remains committed to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and its lawsuit has nothing to do with the political agenda of Canvass For A Cause.
During a court hearing last week in San Diego, McDowell told the judge that the case is about Target's right to enforce its rules on its land.
"The question is Target's property right and its right to exclude," McDowell said.
Barton had asked McDowell why the company did not present testimony from customers complaining about the activists. McDowell said Target could get such testimony but he did not think that was necessary since it's not the central issue.
The corporation said at least eight Target stores in the San Diego area have received more than a dozen complaints daily since canvassers started working the locations in October 2010. The activists have refused to leave when asked politely and shown the company's policy prohibiting "expressive activity" on its property, Target said.
Target was seen as an ally of the gay and lesbian community before it gave money to MN Forward, which supported Tom Emmer. He lost last year's governor's race to Democrat Mark Dayton.
Target later said it was sorry for the hurt feelings and tried to repair its public relations damage by creating a committee to help it better scrutinize decisions regarding financial donations.
The company also negotiated a deal with Lady Gaga to sell a special edition of her upcoming album in a partnership Gaga said was tied to their "reform" — supporting the gay community and making up for past mistakes. The singer cancelled the deal a few weeks ago.