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.”
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.