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Federal court tells Christian photographer she has to serve LGBTQ people equally

Two women exchanging rings at a wedding
Photo: Shutterstock

A federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Christian photographer who demanded a religious exemption to New York’s anti-discrimination law because, she said, it’s against her sincerely held religious beliefs to work for same-sex couples… as well as vampires.

Emilee Carpenter filed a lawsuit earlier this year with help from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), saying that her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights are being violated by the civil rights law.

Related: The students who sued their school for being too trans-friendly have given up

No one filed a discrimination claim against Carpenter, but she said that seven same-sex couples sent her requests that she photograph their weddings and she just didn’t respond to them because she “believes that God created marriage to be a joyful, exclusive union between one man and one woman” and that working a paid gig would “convey messages that she objects to.”

To prove that she wasn’t just targeting LGBTQ people, her lawsuit argued that she wouldn’t work at vampire-themed weddings either.

“Emilee would not provide wedding photography for certain types of irreverent themed weddings—such as Halloween or Vampire-themed weddings—because Emilee believes that all wedding ceremonies are inherently religious and solemn events,” her complaint stated.

She even claimed that not being allowed to put a message on her site saying that she would refuse LGBTQ clients is a violation of her freedom of speech, and she said that same-sex couples can just find another photographer if she refuses.

U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. was not impressed.

“The crux of Plaintiff’s claims is that her photography is the product of her unique artistic style and vision,” Geraci wrote in dismissing her suit. “Thus, an exemption for Plaintiff’s unique, non-fungible services would necessarily undermine, not serve, the State’s purpose, as it would ‘relegate [same-sex couples] to an inferior market’ than that enjoyed by the public at large.”

“This court decision is a huge victory in our pursuit to ensure that every New Yorker has equal access and equal protections under the law,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. “My office will always fight to ensure that every New Yorker is treated equally under the law across our entire state.”

ADF said that they would appeal.

“The court’s decision continues down a dangerous path of the government compelling artists to speak messages that violate their religious beliefs — or imposing steep fines, closing their businesses, or throwing them in jail,” said ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs.

“Non-discrimination laws protect every citizen and send a signal that all are welcome, and that’s good for business,” said GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis.

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