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.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Richard Wolf / USA Today