In 2006, New Mexico’s Vanessa Willock asked the owners of Elane Photography if they were interested in being paid to photograph her commitment ceremony to Misty Pascottini. But Elane’s owners declined, pointing to their Christian beliefs that didn’t approve of homosexuality, let alone homosexual relationships. That led the state’s Civil Rights Commission, at Wilcock’s behest, ordering the photo company to pay $6,637.94 in damages and attorneys fees for violating the couple’s rights under state law. And a judge just upheld that ruling. Stupidly.
Because Elane Photography, owned by wife-and-husband team Elaine and Jon Huguenin, is a “public accommodation,” it’s not entitled to discriminate against anyone in business, ruled District Judge Alan M. Malott, affirming the $6,600 ruling.
The Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the Huguenins, has promised to appeal.
And I actually agree with ADF senior counsel Jordan Lorence’s argument: “Christians in the marketplace should not be subject to predatory legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs. The Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to promote a message they disagree with and thereby violate their conscience. Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy? American small business owners do not surrender their constitutional rights at the marketplace gate, nor can the government make people choose between their faith and their livelihood.”
A photography company is not a public accommodation; it is a private business, which should have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. Even if that means it’s engaged in discrimination. There’s a distinction between private companies and government-run entities, which must adhere to non-discrimination codes. But I wouldn’t want to see a court rule against a gay photographer who, on moral grounds, refused to take the business of a religious fundamentalist and homophobic couple. Because religion is a protected class, just like sexual orientation. Under the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a “government agency shall not restrict a person’s free exercise of religion [i.e., an act or a refusal to act that is substantially motivated by religious belief] unless … the application of the restriction to the person is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” Which is exactly what New Mexico’s Civil Rights Commission, and now courts, are doing; there is no compelling government interest.
Let the wedding photographers discriminate. It’s their choice who to engage in business with. And besides, what gay couple wants to patronize — and, literally, fund — a business that looks down on us?
[UPDATE: Ed: Rightfully so, a number of readers completely disagree with Mr. Smith’s argument. Queerty counts itself among them. We don’t maintain too many “policies,” but generally we’re in favor of prohibiting discrimination across the board, whether it’s based on religion or sexuality. We understand Mr. Smith’s rationale. We do not agree with it.]