Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin yesterday joined a coalition of Attorneys General in filing an amicus brief defending the constitutionality of Minnesota's anti-discrimination law.
The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in the case of Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey. The case was brought by the owners of a videography service who do not want to offer their wedding-related services to same-sex couples as required under the Minnesota public accommodations law. They are challenging the law, claiming it violates their freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
The amicus is consistent with positions Attorney General Kilmartin has taken in the past on the issue of anti-discrimination laws. In October 2017, Attorney General Kilmartin was a signatory on an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court of the United States in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, defending the constitutionality of Colorado's public accommodations law. That case was argued before the Supreme Court earlier this year with an opinion expected in the coming months.
"Individual rights and freedoms are the cornerstone of our country, but there needs to be a balance to ensure that one person's rights do not discriminate against another person, especially if that discrimination is based on sexual orientation," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Like Minnesota and Colorado, Rhode Island has its own anti-discriminatory law, Rhode Island General Law § 11-24-2. Discriminatory practices prohibited: No person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent, or employee of any place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement shall directly or indirectly refuse, withhold from, or deny to any person on account of race or color, religion, country of ancestral origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges of that public place. No person shall directly or indirectly publish, circulate, issue, display, post, or mail any written, printed or painted communication, notice, or advertisement, to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of any public accommodation place shall be refused, withheld from, or denied to any person on account of race or color, religion, country of ancestral origin, disability, sex or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age or that the patronage or custom at that place of any person belonging to or purporting to be of any particular race or color, religion, country of ancestral origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression is unwelcome, objectionable, or not acceptable, desired, or solicited. The production of any written, printed, or painted communication, notice, or advertisement, purporting to relate to any public place and to be made by any person being its owner, lessee, proprietor, superintendent, or manager, shall be presumptive evidence in any action that its production was authorized by that person.
The Attorneys General filed the brief in support of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, defending the constitutionality of the Minnesota public accommodations law.
In the brief, the Attorneys General write that states across the country have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in the commercial marketplace, and that "these laws ensure equal enjoyment of goods and services and combat the severe personal, economic, and social harms caused by discrimination." The attorneys general argue that, under a long line of Supreme Court precedent, requiring businesses to comply with such laws does not violate the Constitution. The attorneys general further argue that the First Amendment exemption to public accommodations laws sought by the business would dramatically undermine anti-discrimination laws.
The Attorneys General write, "Allowing commercial businesses to use the First Amendment as a shield for discriminatory conduct would undermine state civil rights laws and the vital benefits they provide to residents and visitors, leaving behind a society separate and unequal by law. Many Americans would face exclusion from a host of everyday businesses or, at the very least, the ever-present threat that any business owner could refuse to serve them when they walk in the door—simply because of their sexual orientation, or their race, religion, or gender."
Joining Attorney General Kilmartin in the amicus brief in support of Minnesota are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C.