Civil Rights

Court: Photographer who wouldn't work a gay wedding violated anti-discrimination law

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A Christian photographer who refused to photograph the wedding of a gay couple violated state anti-discrimination laws, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography, refused to photograph the commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple because she believes marriage is a union between one man and one woman. In May 2012, a New Mexico appeals court said the refusal violated the state’s law and Thursday’s decision upholds that finding.

“We conclude that a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races,” the court opined (PDF).

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the ruling.

“When you open a business, you are opening your doors to all people in your community, not just the select few who share your personal beliefs,” Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director, said in a statement. “The Constitution guarantees religious freedom in this country, but we are not entitled to use our beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against other people.”

In Thursday’s ruling, the New Mexico court said the state’s anti-discrimination law doesn’t violate free speech guarantees in this case because the law doesn’t compel “Elane Photography to either speak a government-mandated message or to publish the speech of another.” Indeed, the court noted that Elane Photography could advertise that its owners are personally opposed to same-sex marriage.

“Businesses that choose to be public accommodations must comply with the NMHRA, although such businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs,” the court concluded.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Huguenin, decried the opinion as a “blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.”

“Decisions like this undermine the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we have all taken for granted,” Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement. “America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled by the government to express ideas and messages they decline to support.”

Lorence said next step, including whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, are being considered.

The New Mexico high court decision comes on the heels of a move this week by Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the New York Times reports.

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