The Trump administration is siding with an anti-gay photographer in Kentucky who has compared same-sex marriage to polygamy and a “zombie-themed wedding” — but who would gladly participate in a ceremony between a homosexual man and a woman.
Chelsey Nelson filed a lawsuit last year challenging Louisville’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance, saying the law puts her at risk of “limitless damages” if she even mentions her anti-gay views on her website. Although Nelson has not been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding, she apparently brought the suit out of an abundance of caution, as a “pre-enforcement challenge.” She is represented by — you guessed it — the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBT hate group.
NBC News reports: The DOJ’s “statement of interest,” filed this week in federal court, asserts that the photographer, Chelsey Nelson, is likely to succeed in her claim, because requiring her to photograph a “ceremony that violates her sincerely held religious beliefs” — in Nelson’s case, a same-sex wedding — “invades her First Amendment rights.” Nelson sued Louisville officials in November, arguing that the city’s ordinance violates her First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. According to the lawsuit, her Christian views, which include the belief that “God created marriage to be an exclusive covenant between one man and one woman,” shape “every aspect of her life,” including “her business, her art, and her creativity.” “Chelsey would decline any request for wedding celebration services or boutique editing services for a same-sex wedding, polygamous wedding, or an open marriage wedding because creating artwork promoting these events would violate Chelsey’s religious and artistic beliefs,” the suit explains. … Nelson has not, according to court records, been forced to photograph a same-sex wedding. But while she is opposed to providing her services to two brides or two grooms, her lawsuit states that she would “happily work with and provide her wedding celebration services for a wedding between a homosexual man and a woman.”
Nelson defended her position in an op-ed published by USA Today in November.
“This means I wouldn’t be the best person to photograph every wedding,” Nelson wrote. “Of course, I serve everyone regardless of who they are. I just don’t photograph every wedding requested of me. For example, I can’t celebrate a wedding that devalues how seriously I take marriage — like a heavily themed Halloween or zombie-themed wedding.
“Yet, as I began expanding my business, I realized a Louisville, Kentucky, law threatens me with damages if I stay true to my beliefs about marriage,” she added. “Actually, the law won’t even let me explain some of my religious beliefs about marriage, whether on my studio’s website, social media or directly to couples who may want to work with me.”
The City of Louisville says Nelson has no cause to challenge the ordinance, and is seeking dismissal of her lawsuit. The ACLU filed a brief in support of the city.
“At its core, Nelson Photography’s objection is not to a particular message requested by any particular customer, but to providing a service to an entire class of customers who are not heterosexual,” the ACLU brief said. “Nelson Photography must know who a prospective customer is before deciding whether it will refuse to serve that person. That is identity-based discrimination, not an objection to the provision of a specific product.”