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Department of Justice backs wedding photographer who refuses same-sex couples

The US Department of Justice this week filed a ‘statement of interest’, supporting a photographer in Kentucky who doesn’t want to shoot same-sex weddings.

Under Louisville legislation, local businesses are not allowed to turn away customers because of their sexual orientation. Photographer Chelsey Nelson is challenging this 20-year-old ‘Fairness Ordinance’, saying she doesn’t want to appear to support same-sex marriages.

She filed legal action last November claiming the legislation violates her First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

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Nelson, according to her legal paperwork, believes “God created marriage to be an exclusive covenant between one man and one woman.” This belief shapes “every aspect of her life,” including “her business, her art, and her creativity.”

Nelson and her lawyers want the courts to stop the Louisville Fairness Ordinance from being enforced. She’s being backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom – a Christian organization that has taken up similar cases of businesses not wanting to service same-sex marriages. The organization has been designated a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Nelson says she would photograph a wedding between a “homosexual man and a woman”, but not between two people of the same sex.

The DOJ’s ‘Statement of Interest’ was filed in federal court in Kentucky. A press release sent out by the DOJ said Nelson “is likely to succeed on her claim.”

It quotes Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division: “The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing someone to speak in a manner that violates individual conscience. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to protect the right of all persons to exercise their constitutional right to speech and expression.”

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The brief notes that “[w]eddings are sacred rites in the religious realm and profoundly symbolic ceremonies in the secular one” and therefore are “expressive activities” under the Supreme Court’s Free Speech cases.

The press statement says, “Forcing a photographer, against her conscience, to express her support for a wedding that her faith opposes violates the Constitution.”

The statement ends by noting that in July 2018, the Department of Justice set up its Religious Liberty Task Force specifically to look at religious liberty litigation and policy.