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. 


  1. Francis #1 says

    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.

  2. Julio says

    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.

  3. Kyle says

    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.

  4. Francis #1 says

    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.

  5. Duration & Convexity says

    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.

  6. Francis #1 says

    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.

  7. says

    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.

  8. JeffreyRO5 says

    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!

  9. Larry says

    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.

  10. Tigerama says

    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.

  11. says

    @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.

  12. Francis #1 says

    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.

  13. Larry says

    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!

  14. Tony C says

    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.

  15. says

    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!

  16. DC Insider says

    The gay rights thing is getting out of hand? Oh my. Someone drop a house on her, Ms. Michael Walls.

  17. Art Weiss says

    The problem is public accommodation. What if they presented themselves as a christian photography store for christian people? Would they have to ask for a baptismal certificate or something equivalent at the door? Could they identify themselves on the street, or would they have to be behind an unmarked private door? Would they have to organize as a private club? Any legal opinions?

  18. Marco Luxe says

    Did you notice that NOM referred to the gay couple as “the Willocks” in their statement. To me, that’s NOM’s way of conceding the argument… as they refer to this [perverse abomination(?) of a] couple just like they would “the Nelsons” [as in Ozzie and Harriet].

    Case closed. Time to find a new job, Brian.

  19. ajax2828 says

    @Michael Walls. Personal freedom has its limits, one of which is the inability for a commercial business to discriminate. The gay rights thing is getting out of hand? Hey, African Americans, go find a lunch counter where you’re welcome! There are plenty of other water fountains you can use, just not this one that we white people use! Really, Michael, what is it about civil rights and nondiscrimination that you don’t understand?

  20. Scott says

    An absurd ruling that will be overturned in a second by SCOTUS.

    The gays are way out of line here, to say nothing of how this came about which was borderline entrapment. First of all, there was no gay wedding to be had in 2006 in New Mexico. 2nd, the person that brought the suit worked for the UNM OEO and investigated claims of discrimination. One wonders if she ever even had a same sex partner. Frankly, I don’t care. Any 2 people that want to be together is fine by me. Just don’t tell me what to do. This is without question going to be overturned, as it should. The SCONM should be ashamed of themselves.

  21. Dean says

    I’m telling ya what to do, SCOTT. Take a hike you bigot.

    Public Accomondation laws are exactly that. No ifs, ands or butts.

    This case HAS been settled by SCOTUS before, an minor courts before that.

    So, No, Scott, There will be no overturning at SCOTUS. That’s a faux-news pipe dream of Morons.

  22. Grumpy says

    So if some muslim photophraphers were asked to perform the same service to a homosexual couple, they would obviously refuse. Would the courts would order them to do it? I would love to see that case unfold.

  23. Grumpy says

    Maybe some black photographers should be asked to perform the photography service to a couple of KKK members. I’m sure that would go over real well in the black community. When will these people realize that the courts and the governement have NO role in deciding who, what, where, and how a business can conduct their business.

  24. TBone1680 says

    So sorry, Francis #1, but you couldn’t be more wrong.
    “How stupid they are. How arrogant to believe their choice of belief supersedes constitutionally protected rights. – Posted by: Francis #1″

    Their beliefs ARE protected by the Constitution.

    This entire case, and the judgement couldn’t be more wrong. You can’t force anyone to work for you that does not want to. Elaine Huguenin (the photographer) has every right to work for whoever she chooses to. By asking her to photo your wedding, you are asking her to work for you. Her refusal is no more discriminatory than your or my choice whether or not to work at Walmart or Burger King. If the CEO of Walmart asked you to be a “Greeter” for $1 million/year, you don’t have to accept the offer. And that CEO can’t then go and complain that you are discriminating against Walmart because you’re a Target-type-of-guy, or because he is a Christian and you are an Atheist, or because he is white and you are whatever.

    This was a purely political decision. Nothing more.

    Where was the ACLU to defend the photographers Freedom of Choice? I thought Liberals were really big on a “Womans Right to Choose” ? Let alone their right to Religious Freedom. Selective outrage echoes in the hollowness of a shallow mind.

    New Mexico can now force a Muslim food critic to eat pork chops, apparently.

  25. TBone1680 says

    New Mexico can now force a Muslim food critic to eat pork chops, apparently. Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country.

    Vanessa Willock, who requested the photography, is an Equal Employment Opportunity representative with the University of New Mexico.

    Huguenin had argued that they were not opposed to photographing gay customers but that their Christian beliefs prevented them from doing so in a way that would endorse same-sex marriage.

    Rasmussen poll last month found that “If a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage is asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, 85% of American adults believe he has the right to say no.”

    One can respect the right of two people to commit themselves to a same-sex marriage, but using the power of government to force others to express themselves artistically in ways that support that decision is a violation of BASIC RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE and the First Amendment!

  26. TBone1680 says

    In essence, both the Court and Vanessa Willock, of the lesbian couple, are saying –
    “Freedom for ME, Not for thee!”

    “Take my picture or I’ll sue!!!”

    Wonder if this works with Annie Leibovitz? Or doesn’t she have a say in what she photographs?

  27. EJC says

    Who are the couple (male & female) in the photo, I may not have read close enough but I would like to be ware of their involvement!

  28. Mark says

    What a ridiculous farce of a supreme court decision. Destroying rights of people.
    This is not about FREEDOM, or CIVIL RIGHTS, this is about validating a perverted lifestyle.

  29. Mark says

    No Gay couple will ever use the civil rights argument in the face of a black person. They’d get the hell slapped out fo them.
    Just because you paint yourself in blackface, and believe you are a black person, does not make you black, and no you would not be able to going the NAACP.
    Shameful how sickening this world has become.. All so people can live “Freely” in their sick perversion….giving credence to an identity crisis that actually denotes mental instability, NOT validity.

  30. Rexford says

    On the one hand, I wouldn’t want anyone taking photographs of me, if they weren’t happy about doing so. The photographs would probably not only be lousy, but forever “tainted” by that animus. But on the other hand, their position begs the question: Exactly what religion are they, and do they put other potential clients to some sort of morals test before they agree to photograph them?

  31. Annette Crocker says

    That’s wrong what about couples rights,oh that’s right Christians HAVE lost their rights.

  32. Taylor says

    What in the hell. If this lady doesn’t want to take their pictures, she shouldn’t have to. Homosexuality is against her religion, and she should be able to let her religion take precedence before her business. Some people, man. The gay couple could’ve easily found a different photographer and let it go. I am so tired of these people. Be gay, don’t shove it down my throat, I won’t shove my religion down yours.