Embattled corporation Target, that also saw its partnership with music star and LGBT-rights advocate Lady Gaga dissolve this week, was dealt another blow Tuesday when a San Diego judge refused Target’s attorneys a motion to prevent grassroots marriage equality campaigners from gathering petition signatures outside stores in California while Target’s legal case against them is heard.
Target has faced heavy criticism from LGBT rights groups after it was revealed last year that the discount store giant had donated funds to MN Forward, a group that directly supported anti-gay candidate Tom Emmer in his failed 2010 run for governor of Minnesota.
In what is being billed as a David and Goliath legal case, Target is taking on Canvas for a Cause, a small grassroots effort dedicated to supporting marriage equality, because it says that petitioners are damaging business and violating the company’s no-solicitation policy.
Judge Jeffrey B. Barton declared that the right of free speech trumps over the business interests of Target, and refused the corporation’s request to temporarily remove the activist group from outside Target stores in California pending trial.
The judge set a trial date for March 25.
Court documents filed by the Minnesota-based Target Corp. show that its agents are particularly unhappy that the San Diego-based Canvass For A Cause (CFAC) volunteers are seeking petition signatures in support of gay marriage.
Court documents filed in support of Target’s case paint the signature gatherers as “angry and aggressive” when questioning customers that do not agree with their standpoint on marriage equality:
“Canvass for a Cause solicitors typically start by asking our customers if they support gay marriage. If the answer is yes, they ask our customers to sign a petition and for a credit-card donation. If the answer is no, they challenge the customers on their beliefs. Whenever our customers say no, whether it is about making a donation, signing a petition, or about support for gay marriage, the solicitors become angry and aggressive, continuing to challenge our customers on their morals. I have seen them tell our customers not to vote if they are unhappy with the customers’ views.”
When told that Target has a no-solicitation policy, the protesters assert a right to free speech and, attorneys for Target claim, refuse to leave Target premises. Documents note that when law authorities have been called, they too have refused to remove solicitors on free speech grounds.
Court documents also suggest that those acting on behalf of Target are concerned that the chain may be perceived as being pro-gay marriage which, in turn, will cost them business, with one document saying:
“Some guests have told us that they are offended by the controversial pro-gay marriage messaging of the solicitors, and that they assume Target promotes the same view. One solicitor said that he will do everything he can to ensure that his friends and family also do not shop at Target anymore. One guest informed us that they were going to return everything they have bought because they were offended by the group. Many mothers with children have complained about the sensitive nature of the solicitors’ messaging.”
However, Canvass for a Cause leaders have expressed dismay that it they have been targeted by this legal complaint. The grassroots marriage equality group also denies claims that petition gatherers have been threatening or aggressive to Target’s customers.
Again, from San Diego Gay & Lesbian News:
Tres Watson, executive director of CFAC and a San Diego resident, said he was peeved that Target was focusing on the gay marriage petitions in its complaint.
“Actions like this by an organization that has a history of funding groups opposed to LGBT equality like Target are unacceptable. The desire to protect our families should not be offensive to Target, or its patrons. Our families deserve the same dignity and respect as that of any parent who loves their children, and Target Corp. needs to understand that gay and lesbian folks have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else,” Watson told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in an exclusive interview.
Canvas for a Cause has also called into question Target’s no-solicitation policy because Target stores in California, they say, have allowed groups like the Girl Scouts and others to collect petition signatures.
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