New Mexico Court: Christian Photographer Cannot Refuse Gay-Marriage Ceremony

New Mexico Court: Christian Photographer Cannot Refuse Gay-Marriage Ceremony

Today the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Christianphotographers cannot decline to participate in gay-marriage commitment ceremonies,even though that state does not have gay marriage and the court acknowledgedthat providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian’ssincerely-held, traditional religious beliefs. This becomes one of the firstmajor cases where religious liberty collides with gay rights, and could now goto the Supreme Court of the United States.

Elane Huguenin is a photographer in New Mexico. She and herhusband Jonathan jointly own their family business, Elane Photography.Specifically, Elane is a photojournalist–using a carefully-planned series ofphotographs to tell a story and convey a message. She is also a devoutChristian, who believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

In 2006, Vanessa Willock contacted Elane Photography, askingElane to photograph her lesbian commitment ceremony. It was a privatecommitment ceremony because New Mexico recognizes neither gay marriage nor gaycivil unions. Elane thanked Willock for her interest, but explained that due toher religious beliefs she only does traditional weddings.

Willock filed a complaint against Elane with the New MexicoHuman Rights Commission, citing a state law that does not allow discriminationon the basis of sexual orientation. The commission ruled Elane’s decisionillegal, and imposed a fine of $7,000 to cover legal fees.

Elane took this matter to court, represented by Jordan Lorenceof the Alliance DefendingFreedom (ADF). The trial court upheld the fine, as did the court ofappeals.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has now affirmed the lowercourts, holdingthat Elane Photography is a “public accommodation,” and because they photographwedding ceremonies they cannot refuse a gay-commitment ceremony (even if it isnot a legal wedding).

In a concurringopinion, Justice Richard Bosson wrote Elane and Jonathan:

… now are compelled by law to compromise the very religiousbeliefs that inspire their lives… the result is sobering. It will no doubtleave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.

… At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in ourlives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate thecontrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of ournation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to … pray to theGod of their choice … But there is a price, one that we all have to paysomewhere in our civic life.

Bosson goes on to say having to violate your religiousbeliefs when they conflict with social issues like gay marriage “is the priceof citizenship.” 

In response to today’s decision, Lorence said in an ADF statement:

Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorshipsthat has no place in a free country. This decision is a blow to our client andto every American’s right to live free. Decisions like this undermine theconstitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we haveall taken for granted. America was founded on the fundamental freedom of everycitizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled bythe government to express ideas and messages they decline to support. We areconsidering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rightthis wrong.

A recent Rasmussen poll showedthat 85% of Americans support the right of a religious photographer not toparticipate in a gay-marriage ceremony.

A petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for review isdue by mid-November.


Breitbart News legal columnistKen Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family ResearchCouncil and on faculty at Liberty University School of Law. Follow him onTwitter @kenklukowski.


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