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Judge Eyes Target Lawsuit Against Gay Rights Group

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A judge said he would issue an early-April ruling in a lawsuit filed by Target Corp. against a San Diego pro-gay marriage group to make it stop canvassing outside the retailer’s California stores.

The Minnesota-based corporation is seeking an injunction barring the activists from every outlet in the state, alleging they harass customers by cornering them near store entrances to discuss gay marriage, solicit donations, and collect signatures on petitions for their cause.

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 Friday in San Diego, Target attorney David McDowell told Judge Jeffrey Barton the case is about Target’s right to enforce its rules on its land.

“The question is Target’s property rights 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.

Bryan W. Pease, an attorney for Canvass for a Cause, argued that sidewalks and areas outside stores such as Target have been considered by courts to be public domain for free speech.

He said Target is taking action because it does not agree with the group’s message about gay marriage.

McDowell pointed out the company has taken similar action against a number of organizations representing a variety of causes. Solicitors at stores have ranged from religious groups to charitable organizations.

“Whoever causes the most problems gets the attention,’’ McDowell told the Associated Press after the hearing when asked if all those groups have been subjected to legal action.

The corporation says 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 then shown the company’s policy prohibiting “expressive activity’’ on its property, Target said.

Canvass for a Cause director Tres Watson says Target wants to silence the 12,000-member group because it promotes gay marriage.

“It’s very David vs. Goliath,’’ he said. “We understand they’re the Goliath in the room. They’ve got all the money in the
world to get us to stop talking about gay marriage.’’

Volunteers are trained daily on being professional and polite, Watson said, and their aim is to educate the public about the rights of gays and lesbians.

Rachel Scoma, another attorney defending the San Diego group, said Target has won preliminary injunctions against about 100 other organizations rather than go to trial to get permanent injunctions.

The preliminary injunctions have kept solicitors away for good because many of the groups have a shoestring budget and give up the fight, she 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. —Julia Watson, Associated Pres

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