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New Mexico Supreme Court Says Wedding Photographer Can't Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

ElanePhotographyThe New Mexico Supreme Court ruled earlier today that Elane Photography, LLC cannot discriminate against same-sex couples and cite religious beliefs. The case went to the courts after the company's co-founder, Elaine Huguenin, refused to photograph the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock, a resident of Albuquerque. 

A complaint was subsequently investigated by the state Human Rights Commission, which dubbed the decision discriminatory. That decision was then upheld by the New Mexico Court of Appeals in June of 2012 before being appealed again to the state supreme court. Elane Photography argued that, because photography is an "expressive" medium, it is subject to protection under the First Amendment. The ACLU, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Willock and her partner, argued that, because the photographs were being sold as part of a business, the company was subject to the same regulations as would a normal company." A commercial business cannot solicit customers from the general public to buy its services as a photographer for hire and then claim that taking those photographs is a form of its own autonomous expressive activity," they said on their official website

Thankfully, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed in their opinion:

"We conclude that a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races." 

NM Supreme COurtNaturally, NOM president Brian Brown was not happy about the decision, and issued several strong statements in the group's subsequent press release:

"This decision is outrageous. While simultaneously admitting that this decision will harm the Huguenins, the court uses its full power of coercion to force them to compromise their beliefs. This is not what this country was founded upon; governmental coercion has no place in the public square never mind the freedom of religion supposedly enjoyed by the Huguenins...While the court calls for compromise, they got it wrong in this case. The Huguenins should not have to compromise. Their beliefs are constitutionally protected. But the Willocks could easily have compromised by going to another photographer who would not have had such a conflict. Instead the Willocks forced the issue and used the power of the court to put the Huguenins in an impossible position - compromise their beliefs or give up their livelihood. There is nothing just about that."

Hopefully, today's decision bodes well for the same-sex marriage case that is still currently before the New Mexico Supreme Court, one that was recently consolidated and expedited thanks to marriage equality advocates. New Mexico's Attorney General has already declined to defend the case, and Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins has already started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in anticipation that marriage equality will be arriving soon in the state. 

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  1. When reporting supreme court rulings, I am very interested in the number judges in the majority decisions.

    Posted by: AndyTowlette | Aug 22, 2013 9:25:45 PM

  2. Only rational ruling possible. Great news

    Posted by: L.C | Aug 22, 2013 9:32:01 PM

  3. Really, the fact that New Mexico's Supreme Court has not taken up marriage equality yet, in fact denied to take it up a few days ago, but issued this ruling takes away one of the right's only arguments regarding non-discrimination policies. That they lead to marriage equality. This proves that's not the case (of course, NM could legalize marriage equality through the court cases currently in lower courts).

    I honestly though I was reading an old story when I read this ruling earlier today. I can't believe it's taken so long to get a final ruling, but here we are. Great job from the New Mexico Supreme Court on not buying the hateful lies and cutting straight to the heart of the matter---discrimination is discrimination and is outlawed in New Mexico's constitution.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Aug 22, 2013 9:32:05 PM

  4. Discrimination is discrimination and I'm tired of gay people being told to deal, or not be uppity when we're rejected a venue, photographer, cake, bakery, food, tux and so many other things based on who we inherently love.

    Very pleased with this outcome. Freedom is the only resolution.

    Posted by: Julio | Aug 22, 2013 9:33:34 PM

  5. Awww poor Christian martyrs. They don't want to snap a photo of a couple because it completely persecutes them and their "holy" religion. Go sit down with that bull. You take pictures of unmarried straight fornicators on a daily basis without asking about their sex lives.

    Posted by: Kyle | Aug 22, 2013 9:34:42 PM

  6. The ruling was unanimous. Unsurprisingly, conservatives are very upset on twitter. The photographers should have simply said they were booked. How stupid they are. How arrogant to believe their choice of belief supersedes constitutionally protected rights.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Aug 22, 2013 9:35:21 PM

  7. No NOM. Being religious does NOT give you license to be above the law. Regardless of how many religious people want to hide behind man made text to perpetuate their own hatred and bias in society.

    Posted by: Duration & Convexity | Aug 22, 2013 9:35:45 PM

  8. Hmm the ruling was unanimous. It is a good outlook for the incoming marriage equality case.

    Posted by: AndyTowlette | Aug 22, 2013 9:43:19 PM

  9. 58% of Americans based on a SPLC poll believe that Christian photographers (as in this case) should be allowed to discriminate. Most Americans should be on our side on this, but all polls show they value "religious freedom" over our rights. People think that we're out to get Christians or we're on a witch hunt, or we're bullies and this is a two way street situation. It's pathetic. Glad about this ruling, though, which is as clear as it gets.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Aug 22, 2013 9:54:57 PM

  10. The ruling says it all. Exactly right. No free speech rights were violated; the photographers are still free to say they don't like gay people (in fact, honesty should be encouraged)-- they simply aren't free to target one group for exclusion from a public business based on their personal biases.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 22, 2013 10:33:00 PM

  11. This isn't the test. The test is applying this to Muslims.

    Posted by: Zeta | Aug 22, 2013 10:35:13 PM

  12. Since the photographer is already violating two of the Ten Commandments, why should she expect to get an exception to a law, based on religious beliefs? The Ten Commandments forbid creating graven images, and working on the Sabbath (Saturday). Since this photographer routinely does both, how can she then claim she can't violate her religious beliefs? She does so for a living!

    Posted by: JeffreyRO5 | Aug 22, 2013 10:50:47 PM

  13. Frak just lie next time and you wont get sued!

    Posted by: Cyberman | Aug 22, 2013 10:53:17 PM

  14. NOM = National Organization of Morons.

    Posted by: TG | Aug 22, 2013 11:16:20 PM

  15. @Zeta, exact same principles would apply, end of story.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 22, 2013 11:29:04 PM

  16. Too bad Diane Arbus wasn't alive.

    Posted by: BE | Aug 23, 2013 1:03:23 AM

  17. If it was me, I would give the business to someone who wanted it. I'm seeing this case sighted by all the Cons online, etc. I understand the discrimination aspect, and it sucks, but why would someone want anyone involved with their celebration who doesn't want to be there? Give the money to someone else and don't give these people more ammo to use in their ridiculous fight against us. What am I missing? Are these the kinds of cases that will hurt our Cause? Can't they stand by the policy of WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE or whatever those signs say that you see everywhere? I'm really trying to understand how fighting against these people helps us. I wouldn't want them at my event. We're winning and it just seems like these cases to will be used by crazy ass NOM and the likes of them, only feeding the fear of people on the fence and, sadly, we need the support in many States still. I'm not looking for snarky responses. I'm truly asking for help in understanding this. I do not believe discrimination is right but what good does it do to go after these people who really have no say in whether we marry anyway? Hire someone who wants to be there, don't give the money to someone who doesn't.

    Posted by: Larry | Aug 23, 2013 1:44:00 AM

  18. Who are the people in the photo??

    Posted by: McCoysMarketNYC | Aug 23, 2013 1:46:19 AM

  19. I'm sort of enjoying this new apathy - it's not like they could keep up the whole "end times" things for fifty states. After a certain point people are going to get bored of this whole thing and wonder why anybody ever cared.

    Posted by: Tigerama | Aug 23, 2013 6:48:47 AM

  20. @Larry, of course no one wants to hire someone who's a bigot, but unless the bigot advertises as such, people approach a business in the good faith that the business owner is a good person who doesn't discriminate (in violation of the law, in this case). So, when the business owner shows their true colors, should the gay/black/christian couple simply remain silent and let others like them go through the same hassle and humiliation so as not to ruffle any feathers?

    Well, that's one approach. The other approach is to believe that non-discrimination laws exist for a reason and that public businesses have an obligation to abide by them and treat all people with dignity--whatever their personal prejudices--if they want to stay in business. If a business owner wants to tailor their business to a certain clientele, there are legal ways to do this (you can advertise to preferred clients, for instance), but if you hang out a NO -- ALLOWED shingle, you're going to get busted.

    If NOM wants to use this, let them. (We'll keep winning anyway.) The key is educating people. This wasn't about "gay marriage," which isn't yet legal in NM, but about discrimination. The same law would protect a religious person turned away from a business, something the NOM-types always leave out. They don't oppose non-discrimination laws for themselves; they only oppose them for gay people.

    Hope that helps, Larry.

    Posted by: Ernie | Aug 23, 2013 10:11:42 AM

  21. If you have photographers at your wedding who don't want to be there, expect lousy photos.

    Posted by: MIke | Aug 23, 2013 10:49:11 AM

  22. Indications are that this could be appealed to the Supreme Court. That's a big deal if true and SCOTUS takes the case. This could be the case that either makes it clear that anti-gay discrimination is fundamentally unconstitutional or makes religious-based discrimination not actually discrimination but religious freedom. Gotta keep your eye on this case, on what happens.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Aug 23, 2013 11:31:49 AM

  23. @Ernie,
    Didn't even think of the 'religious' protection from the same law that conveniently gets left out of all of the arguments. Thanks very much!

    Posted by: Larry | Aug 23, 2013 12:54:57 PM

  24. I'm glad the NM Supreme Court made the correct decision. It should also be noted had this bigot won her case, it could have set precedent for other service providers to deny service to gay people. A hospital or an EMT could say…I’m not taking care of gay people (or black people)’s against my religious beliefs. A commercial pilot could say, I’m not allowing gay (or muslim) people on my plane and won’t take off until they are removed…they offend my religious sensibilities. A cashier could say, get out of my line, I’m Catholic, I don’t serve Jews or Gays or Muslims. A Fire Chief could say, don’t send my fire trucks to that gay couples house… It is against my conscience. A life guard could say….Well, I let that gay kid drown, because It’s against my religious beliefs to have any thing to do with the gays. Bus drivers could say get off my bus, jesus doesn't allow me to drive Gays or Jews. 911 operators could start asking all their callers....are you gay sir? Oh, well you need to call back, I can't help you, because I have religious principals and I don't help sinners. And on and on and on.... The Supreme court has said...This is not the kind of society we want...this is not New Mexico. It should also be noted that her right to her religious beliefs were not violated. She can still "believe" that gays shouldn't get married....she can do that AND comply with the NM Human Rights Act which does not allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Posted by: Tony C | Aug 23, 2013 2:06:28 PM

  25. This is not about marriage equality - it is about personal freedom. The photographer is not attempting to stop a gay wedding - he/she just refuses to attend one. This absurd ruling will be struck down on constitutional grounds.

    There are plenty of wedding photographers, and gay ones too. Grow up! The gay rights thing is getting out of hand!

    Posted by: Michael Walls | Aug 23, 2013 2:34:56 PM

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