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N.M. Supreme Court rules against photographer in gay bias case

N.M. Supreme Court rules against photographer in gay bias case

SANTA FE, N.M. — A commercial photography business owned by opponents of same-sex marriage violated New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.

In an unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court said the business’s refusal in 2006 to photograph the ceremony involving two women violated New Mexico’s Human Rights Act “in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

Elaine Huguenin

The court’s ruling came after the Dona Ana County clerk on Wednesday began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, although state law doesn’t explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage.

Elaine Huguenin, who owns Elane Photography with her husband and is the business’s principal photographer, refused to photography the ceremony because it violated her religious beliefs.

The court rejected arguments that the anti-discrimination law violated the photographer’s right to free speech and the free exercise of religious beliefs.

A lawyer for the business, Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defending Freedom, sharply criticized the ruling and said an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is under consideration.

“Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country,” Lorence said in a statement. “This decision is a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.”

Justice Richard Bosson wrote that the business owners “have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.”

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“That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us a people,” Bosson wrote in an opinion concurring with the court’s ruling. “That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”

The court said a business could declare in its advertising that it opposes same-sex marriage but it has to comply with the anti-discrimination law.

Vanessa Wilcock and another woman found another photographer to shoot the ceremony but an anti-discrimination claim was filed with the state Human Rights Commission, which determined that Huguenin’s studio violated the law.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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