Gay Bias Case Sticks to Wedding Photographers
(CN) - A New Mexico photography studio cannot refuse to shoot a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, the state Supreme Court ruled.
Vanessa Willock asked Elane Photography LLC via e-mail if it was available to photograph her commitment ceremony to another woman. Both parties agreed that the ceremony was like a wedding with rings, vows, a minister, a wedding dress and flower girls.
The studio's co-owner and lead photographer wrote back that her studio did not shoot same-sex weddings.
Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which agreed with her that the studio discriminated against her and her partner.
Elane appealed the case to the Second Judicial District Court, which ruled in Willock's favor. It had the same result when it took the case to the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the New Mexico Supreme Court.
"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 NMHRA and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples," Justice Edward Chavez wrote on the court's behalf.
"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," he added.
The court ruled that the NMHRA does not violate the free-speech guarantee of the First Amendment because Elane is free to "post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws," Chavez wrote.
New Mexico's legislature amended the NMHRA in 2003 to add "sexual orientation" as a class of people to be protected from discrimination.
Chavez added that "reasonable observers are unlikely to interpret Elane Photography's photographs as an endorsement of the photographed events. It is well-known to the public that wedding photographers are hired by paying customers and may not share the happy couple's views on issues ranging from the minor (the color scheme, the hors d'ouevres) to the decidedly major (the religious server, the choice of bride or groom."
Justice Richard C. Bosson filed a specially concurring opinion, sympathizing with Elane's co-owners, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin. Bosson compared them to Jehovah's Witnesses in West Virginia who refused to salute the flag during World War II for religious reasons.
"The Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people," Bosson wrote.
"That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship," he added.