The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled today that a Christian photographer discriminated against a homosexual couple when she refused to take photos of their “commitment” ceremony.
Elaine Huguenin, who operates Elane Photography with her husband, Jonathan, cited her belief in the biblical definition of marriage when she declined to work with Vanessa Willock and her lesbian partner. Although Willock hired another photographer, she filed a complaint against Huguenin with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. In 2008, the commission ruled Huguenin discriminated against Willock on the basis of her sexual orientation and ordered the photographer to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees, even though New Mexico does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.
The state’s high court sided with the court of appeals, which upheld the commission’s decision. In its opinion, the high court concluded that because Elane Photography offers its services to the public, it must abide by the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), which forbids businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.
“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,” wrote Justice Edward Chávez in the majority opinion.
The court also ruled the state’s anti-discrimination law does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections for free speech because it does not compel businesses to say they support any particular view. It only prevents them from refusing to serve people with whom they disagree.
But serving someone who is homosexual and forcing an artist to use her creative talents to support something she disagrees with are two very different things, said Jordan Lorence, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents Elane Photography: “Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country. … Decisions like this undermine the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we have all taken for granted. 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.”
ADF may appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Elane Photography is just one of several wedding service businesses facing complaints or legal challenges for refusing to use their artistic talents to support same-sex marriage. In two other cases involving an Oregon bakery and a Washington florist, both business owners said they would be happy to sell their pre-made products to homosexual customers. But they refused to be compelled to participate in a ceremony that violated their Christian beliefs.
In the Elane Photography case, Justice Richard Bosson wrote in a concurring opinion that while the state law is correct in preventing discrimination, the result is “sobering.”
“On a larger scale, this case provokes reflection on what this nation is all about, its promise of fairness, liberty, equality of opportunity, and justice,” he wrote. “At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. … The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.”