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New Mexico

NM court upholds ruling that photographer discriminated against lesbian couple

Thursday, June 7, 2012
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Court of Appeals this week ruled that a professional photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony violated state anti-discrimination laws.

The appeals court decision was the third loss for the photography studio, and victory for Vanessa Willock.

The ruling against Elane Photography, whose owner claimed it was a “Christian” photographer, upholds a lower court ruling that said the photo studio is considered a public accommodation, similar to a restaurant or store, reported the Albuquerque Journal.

The case dates back to 2006, when Willock contact the studio’s owner, Elaine Huguenin, about taking pictures of a same-gender ceremony but was told it handled only traditional weddings.

When Willock’s 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.

Elane Photography argued that categorically refusing to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies did not constitute discrimination, but rather reflected its owners sincerely held religious and moral beliefs that prohibit the practice.

“Could an African-American photographer, under that rationale, be required to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally?” Elane asked hypothetically.

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

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins reacted to the ruling, and said, “In New Mexico, the private bedroom behaviors of homosexuals trump religious freedom.”

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based legal alliance of Christian attorneys and others that represented the studio, said it plans to appeal.

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