Supreme Court refuses case of photographer who declined to shoot gay ceremony

By Neal McNamara | April 8, 2014
Winter Weather Washington

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up the case of a New Mexico photographer who did not want to capture a same-sex wedding because it’s against her religious beliefs – but the case may have less to do with religious freedom and more about free speech and government power.

The New Mexico Supreme Court had ruled that the photographer violated a state law that says businesses open to the public cannot discriminate based on race, sex, religion, or sexuality for refusing to take pictures at a lesbian commitment ceremony.

In 2007, Elane Photography, owned by Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, declined to take photos of the “commitment ceremony” of lesbians Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth. Elane photography told the lesbian couple that it would take portraits of gay couples, but would not photograph a commitment ceremony because that would “require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.”

“The message a same-sex commitment ceremony communicates is not one I believe,” Elaine Huguenin has said. “If it becomes something where Christians are made to do these things by law in one state, or two, it’s going to sweep across the whole United States…and religious freedom could become extinct.”

Willock sued Elane Photography under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, and the state human rights commission ruled against the photographers. The state Supreme Court upheld that ruling, which is why the Huguenins, with the help of the group Alliance Defending Freedom, sought relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the Huguenins did not rely on a religious freedom argument in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. Instead, they said in a petition that forcing them to “communicate messages antithetical to [Elaine Huguenin’s] religious beliefs … through government coercion” was a violation of the Huguenins freedom of speech because her photography was a form of personal expression.

The Huguenins predicament inspired the creation of laws – most notably in Oklahoma and Arizona – that would grant businesses greater freedoms to decide who to serve. An Arizona law, which was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, would have allowed business owners the ability to avoid being sued or punished if they declined to serve a person whose lifestyle violated their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court did not say why it would not hear the Elane Photography case.

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