Owners had initially refused to provide a wedding venue.
Two St. Cloud men getting married this month will have their wedding ceremony and reception paid for by a Little Falls hunting club after it initially refused to be the site of their wedding.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced the settlement Friday, the first of its kind since the state legalized gay marriage in August 2013. The owners of LeBlanc’s Rice Creek Hunting and Recreation Inc. agreed to pay about $8,500 to cover the upcoming wedding of Cole Frey and Adam Block, as well as apologize to the two men and comply with the state’s nondiscrimination law in the future.
Frey, 20, and Block, 18, said Friday that they met last October and became engaged in November. In February, Frey said, he contacted LeBlanc’s to inquire about having the wedding at its clubhouse after his stepmother suggested it. He said he didn’t immediately reveal that he was marrying a man, and was told their desired date was available.
A few weeks later, Frey said, he went to sign papers and leave a security deposit. “That’s when they found out it would be between two males,” Frey said. “They told us they don’t condone same-sex marriage, and they wouldn’t be marrying us on their property.”
Frey said he quickly contacted the Department of Human Rights. Posing as a potential customer, an agency investigator called LeBlanc’s to inquire about renting it for a same-sex wedding and received a similar response.
Human Rights Department Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said his agency contacted the club and started settlement talks. Paul Rogosheske, the attorney for LeBlanc’s, said it was a case of misunderstanding state law.
“They made a mistake and we did everything in our power to correct it,” Rogosheske said. “This couple is going to have a great wedding and I can assure you LeBlanc’s is going to be open to everybody.”
Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been illegal under Minnesota law since 1993. When the Legislature voted to legalize gay marriage in 2013, it exempted religious entities from taking part in the solemnization of same-sex weddings. But that doesn’t exempt individuals or businesses from nondiscrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage.
Opponents are vocal
Critics of same-sex marriage warned of such scenarios when the issue was before the Legislature last year.
“This is a shameful example of government forcing citizens to accept the government’s view of sexuality and marriage,” John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, said in a statement responding to the settlement.
According to its website, LeBlanc’s Rice Creek opened as a private shooting reserve in 1961. It is now owned and run by the two sons of the original owners and their cousin. Rogosheske called their initial responses understandable in light of deeply felt beliefs about same-sex marriage.
“You’ve got the archdiocese campaigning against the amendment, they were very vocal,” Rogosheske said. “You could see how people involved in a private hunting club, they were new to hosting weddings in the first place, you could see how they made a mistake.”
Rogosheske said the club’s owners were not granting interviews.
Frey and Block are getting married next Friday. Frey said the ceremony would be at the Camp Ripley Chapel and the reception at a private home in Little Falls. He said that by the time the controversy was settled, LeBlanc’s had been booked on their chosen wedding date.
“We kind of came to the conclusion, anyway, that we didn’t want to have it there because we didn’t want to be associated with them in that way,” said Frey, a student at the University of Phoenix. Block is a student at St. Cloud State University.
Lindsey praised the club’s owners for a willingness to “own up to it and make amends. I hope this will be an isolated case.”
Frey said he and Block were motivated by the belief that they have the same rights as any couple.
“It’s not my place if someone in their religion feels this is wrong,” Frey said. “But at the same time, it’s a feeling that people need to accept what’s going on and that this is becoming the norm.”
Patrick Condon • 651-925-5049