March 25, 2011; Source: | The retailing giant Target is hoping a judge isn't buying a pro-gay marriage group's claim that it’s exercising free speech by canvassing customers outside the company's stores in California. For now, all the judge is saying is that he'll issue a ruling this week in response to the company's request for an injunction to stop San Diego-based Canvass for A Cause from talking up its pro-gay marriage message outside Target stores.

To some observers, the lawsuit could be a set back for the company's efforts to improve its standing in the gay and lesbian community. Relations had been damaged following disclosure of a $150,000 donation to a group that backed an anti-gay marriage candidate, Republican Tom Emmer, who lost last year's race for Minnesota's governor to Democrat Mark Dayton. In this case, the Associated Press says Target is bringing action because of allegations that Canvass for A Cause activists are harassing customers "by cornering them near store entrances to discuss gay marriage, solicit donations and collect signatures on petitions for their cause."

Target claims there are no hidden motivations, and the case has nothing to do with the group's stance on gay marriage. Instead the company's attorney, David McDowell, says at issue is "Target's property right and its right to exclude" individuals it doesn't want outside its stores. McDowell also said Target has taken similar action against other groups it claims were bothering customers.

Tres Watson, Canvass for A Cause director, says Target is trying to silence the group because it favors gay marriage. He also says, because of its size, the group is an easy target. "It's very David vs. Goliath," he said. "We understand they're the Goliath in the room. They've got all money in world to get us to stop talking about gay marriage." In the end the case will come down to one group's claim of free speech and the other's that there's a cost involved when speech disrupts commerce.—Bruce Trachtenberg