Carl Larsen is delighted that an appeals court has ruled that he has the right to advertise his media company to the general public and add the limitation, “But not for you, LGBTQ people” (“This case is a win for free speech,” Aug. 29). He has the right to express that opinion, but it’s a shameful practice that he’s defending.
In Minnesota we are fortunate to have a state law that protects all of us from businesses that discriminate against us based on factors such as our sexual orientation, religion and race. Barely a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held (again) that states are entitled to protect classes of people “in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
Even the wedding cake baker in that case conceded that “if a baker refused to sell any goods or any cakes for gay weddings ... the State would have a strong case” to prevent that practice.
Larsen’s claim that this is about free speech is a red herring. My ability to speak freely does not give me the right to refuse to do business with people based on their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. At the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, we believe fervently and passionately in freedom of speech. We work hard every day to protect it. But, to borrow an observation attributed to Abraham Lincoln, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. My right to free speech cannot justify denying publicly available goods and services to people because of who they are. A business cannot use free speech as an excuse or license to discriminate.
This case really is not about free speech at all. If Mr. Larsen wants to write or produce a movie to express his point of view, he can do or say pretty much anything he wants. But when he hires himself out to couples who are getting married, it’s really about them, isn’t it? It’s their day, their ceremony, their vows. They aren’t actors paid by Larsen to star in his videos. They are customers of a business, and they are entitled to get what they want. They are the ones who have — and should have — the right to unhindered speech in their own wedding video.
As the Supreme Court said in the wedding cake baker’s case: “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.”
Using claims to freedom of speech to justify discrimination demeans us all.
John B. Gordon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.