U.S. Supreme Court May Decide If Christian Photographers Can Refuse to Give Services to Same-Sex Wedding Ceremonies

Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, N.M., is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her compelled speech case. Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, N.M., is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her compelled speech case. Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

When Vanessa Willock wanted an Albuquerque photographer to shoot her same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, she contacted Elane Photography. The response came as a shock: Co-owner Elaine Huguenin said she only worked on “traditional weddings.”

“Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?” Willock asked by e-mail.

“Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings,” Huguenin responded.

Now 7 1/2 years after that e-mail exchange, the Supreme Court is considering whether to referee the dispute.

The photography case is viewed through the lens of same-sex marriage, but it also pits two constitutional rights against each other: freedom of speech and equal protection.

Willock and her partner, Misti Collinsworth, had no trouble finding another photographer for their September 2007 ceremony. Still, Willock filed a complaint against Elane Photography with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, charging that the snub violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. Twenty other states have similar laws.

The commission and state courts agreed, ruling that the photo studio cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

“They may … post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage,” the state Supreme Court wrote, “but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

In asking the nation’s highest court to hear the case, Huguenin and her husband, Jonathan, dropped their religious freedom claim and are focusing solely on free speech — in this case, the freedom not to photograph same-sex ceremonies.

That sets the case apart from legislative efforts in some states to carve religious exemptions to anti-discrimination statutes. The Huguenins’ lawyers and supporters don’t contend that businesses such as restaurants and hotels can refuse to serve gays and lesbians. A measure that could have had that effect was vetoed in Arizona last month by Gov. Jan Brewer.

Their argument is that professionals whose work is by nature expressive — such as writers, advertisers and website designers — should not have to apply their artistic talents to subjects on which they disagree.

“Of particular relevance here is the Huguenins’ sincere religious belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” their petition says. “They believe that if they were to communicate a contrary message about marriage — by, for example, telling the story of a polygamous wedding ceremony — they would be disobeying God.”

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Religion News Service
Richard Wolf / USA Today

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