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New Mexico

New Mexico Supreme Court hears appeal by photographer in gay bias case

Monday, March 11, 2013

SANTA FE, N.M. — In a case that tests anti-discrimination protection for gays, a religious rights group told the New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday that a photographer who declined to shoot the commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple was exercising her rights to free speech and artistic freedom.

The First Amendment should exempt Elaine Huguenin and her Albuquerque business, Elane Photography, from state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defending Freedom told the high court.

He said gay marriage is against the photographer’s religious beliefs, and she should not be required to promote a message that violates her conscience.

An attorney for the couple, however, argued that the business openly advertises its wedding photography services, and as a public business is required to follow the same anti-discrimination laws as any other company.

The case dates to 2006, when Vanessa Willock contacted Huguenin about taking pictures of a same-gender ceremony but was told it handled only traditional weddings.

When Willock’s partner later 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 state district judge and the New Mexico Court of Appeals have upheld that ruling.

After the hearing on Monday, Lorence called it an unusual case that takes the gay marriage debate to a new level. He said the case is one of the first in which free speech rights were used as a defense.

“The point we are trying to make is that even people who have views that are contrary should not be silenced by the government,” he said.

Tobias Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania law professor representing the couple, said the only thing unusual about the case was the defense.

“The nature of the discrimination claim is very straightforward,” he said after the hearing.

Questions from the Supreme Court justices during the hearing centered on how to differentiate between photography being a business or protected artistic expression.

“Are there no limits to this?” asked Justice Richard Bosson. “Can you force an African-American photographer to take photos of the Ku Klux Klan?”

Justice Charles Daniels noted the Klan is not a protected class. But he did say the questions in the case revolve around the rights of the couple and the photographer.

The couple has waived payment of the attorney’s fees. So the only issue before the high court is the declaration of discrimination, Wolff said.

It was unclear when the New Mexico Supreme Court will issue a ruling.

Associated Press contributed to this report.
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7 more reader comments:

  1. sorry you can’t hide behind religious beliefs when you discriminate.

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:16pm
  2. and the hits keep coming..lets start taxing some churches

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:19pm
  3. I say ban boycott that photography company then. If they choose to use freedom of speech to discriminate people then I say we use freedom of speech to not associate with racists :)

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:21pm
  4. Sorry, but I have to play Devil’s Advocate here. Would any of you commenting want your privately owned photography business to be forced to provide services for a militant KKK couple that chose to incorporate that into their ceremony, or any other objectionable event. I don’t agree with the woman’s views but I will uphold her right to run her business as she chooses. This is not a police state or dictatorship. We do not tell private owners of businesses who they will or will not accomodate.

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:31pm
  5. @ Randy Peterson, if ANYONE came into your private business and tried to demand service of you even though you disliked them for WHATEVER reason would you want to be forced to provide them service. I support the right of business owners to make decisions regarding whom they do or do not provide service for. PERIOD. If you don’t like their views by all means boycott their business and find another, that is YOUR right. You do not have the right to tell a private business owner how to run THEIR business. Period.

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:59pm
  6. And for the record, I oppose discrimination when it comes to things I have a constitutional right to. The right to marry, the right to walk down the street and not be harmed or harassed because of who I am, the right to services provided by the state or federal government. Businesses choose who they will or will not provide service for all the time. Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t carry my size of clothing…do I have a right to sue them because I get offended they don’t carry clothing for obese people. We must take the blinders off when it comes to what we fight for. Forcing businesses to serve African-Americans didn’t eliminate racism, nor will it eliminate homophobia, it will only foster resentment and fuel the fires of the right-wingers claiming their own religious and free expression oppressions.

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 3:14pm
  7. Also keep in mind the gay bar in California years back that got criticized for barring bachelorette parties? If the photographer has to provide service for the same-sex wedding ceremony then you have to extend that same regulation to the gay bar, but I didn’t see many of my LGBT fellows standing up for the rights of the women that got turned away. We can not get all bent out of shape and call people a hypocrite or bigot while presenting the same character flaw ourselves.

    Posted on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 3:38pm