New Mexico Court: Christian Photographer Cannot Refuse Gay-Marriage Ceremony
Today the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Christian
photographers cannot decline to participate in gay-marriage commitment ceremonies,
even though that state does not have gay marriage and the court acknowledged
that providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian’s
sincerely-held, traditional religious beliefs. This becomes one of the first
major cases where religious liberty collides with gay rights, and could now go
to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Elane Huguenin is a photographer in New Mexico. She and her
husband Jonathan jointly own their family business, Elane Photography.
Specifically, Elane is a photojournalist—using a carefully-planned series of
photographs to tell a story and convey a message. She is also a devout
Christian, who believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
In 2006, Vanessa Willock contacted Elane Photography, asking
Elane to photograph her lesbian commitment ceremony. It was a private
commitment ceremony because New Mexico recognizes neither gay marriage nor gay
civil unions. Elane thanked Willock for her interest, but explained that due to
her religious beliefs she only does traditional weddings.
Willock filed a complaint against Elane with the New Mexico
Human Rights Commission, citing a state law that does not allow discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation. The commission ruled Elane’s decision
illegal, and imposed a fine of $7,000 to cover legal fees.
Elane took this matter to court, represented by Jordan Lorence
of the Alliance Defending
Freedom (ADF). The trial court upheld the fine, as did the court of
The New Mexico Supreme Court has now affirmed the lower
that Elane Photography is a “public accommodation,” and because they photograph
wedding ceremonies they cannot refuse a gay-commitment ceremony (even if it is
not a legal wedding).
In a concurring
opinion, Justice Richard Bosson wrote Elane and Jonathan:
… now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious
beliefs that inspire their lives… the result is sobering. It will no doubt
leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.
… 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. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our
nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to … pray to the
God of their choice … But there is a price, one that we all have to pay
somewhere in our civic life.
Bosson goes on to say having to violate your religious
beliefs when they conflict with social issues like gay marriage “is the price
In response to today’s decision, Lorence said in an ADF statement:
Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships
that has no place in a free country. This decision is a blow to our client and
to 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. 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. We are
considering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to right
A recent Rasmussen poll showed
that 85% of Americans support the right of a religious photographer not to
participate in a gay-marriage ceremony.
A petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for review is
due by mid-November.
Breitbart News legal columnist
Ken Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family Research
Council and on faculty at Liberty University School of Law. Follow him on