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Court: Private Studio Must Photograph Gay Couple

Court: Private Studio Must Photograph Gay Couple

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.
A professional photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony violated state anti-discrimination laws, the New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court on Thursday agreed with a previous ruling, in which a district court judge said the photo studio is considered public, similar to a restaurant or store, and cannot refuse service based on sexual orientation, the Albuquerque Journal reported ( http://bit.ly/JSAdE5). The photography studio had argued that its refusal was not an act of discrimination but a reflection of the owners’ religious and moral beliefs.

Vanessa Willock asked the studio, Elane Photography, in 2006 about taking pictures of a same-gender ceremony but was told it handled only traditional weddings. When her partner contacted the studio without revealing her sexual orientation, she was given a price list and sent a follow-up email.

Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled that Elane Photography violated the state Human Rights Act and ordered it to pay nearly $7,000 in legal fees. A district court later upheld the commission’s ruling.

Appellate court Judge Tim Garcia said a 1981 state Supreme Court case expanded the concept of public accommodation to include nontraditional and non-historic businesses. The opinion is in line with a national trend, said Tobias Barrington Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania School of Law professor who represented Willock on appeal.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based legal alliance of Christian attorneys and others that represented the studio, plans to appeal. Elane Photography argued that it provided discretionary, unique and expressive services that aren’t a public accommodation under the Human Rights Act.

The studio asked hypothetically whether an African-American photographer would be required to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally.

The court responded: “The Ku Klux Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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