New Mexico Court: Christian Photographer Cannot Refuse Gay-Marriage CeremonyBy Ken Klukowski Director, Center for Religious Liberty
Ken Klukowski is Director, Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared on Breitbart.com, August 22, 2013.
Today the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Christian photographers cannot decline to participate in gay-marriage commitment ceremonies, even though that state does not have gay marriage and the court acknowledged that providing services for the ceremony violated the Christian's sincerely-held, traditional religious beliefs. This becomes one of the first major cases where religious liberty collides with gay rights, and could now go to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Elane Huguenin is a photographer in New Mexico. She and her husband Jonathan jointly own their family business, Elane Photography. Specifically, Elane is a photojournalist-using a carefully-planned series of photographs to tell a story and convey a message. She is also a devout Christian, who believes that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
In 2006, Vanessa Willock contacted Elane Photography, asking Elane to photograph her lesbian commitment ceremony. It was a private commitment ceremony because New Mexico recognizes neither gay marriage nor gay civil unions. Elane thanked Willock for her interest, but explained that due to her religious beliefs she only does traditional weddings.
Willock filed a complaint against Elane with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, citing a state law that does not allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The commission ruled Elane's decision illegal, and imposed a fine of $7,000 to cover legal fees.
Elane took this matter to court, represented by Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The trial court upheld the fine, as did the court of appeals.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has now affirmed the lower courts, holding that Elane Photography is a "public accommodation," and because they photograph wedding ceremonies they cannot refuse a gay-commitment ceremony (even if it is not a legal wedding).
In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard Bosson wrote Elane and Jonathan:
... now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives... the result is sobering. It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views.
... At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation's strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to ... pray to the God of their choice ... But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.
Bosson goes on to say having to violate your religious beliefs when they conflict with social issues like gay marriage "is the price of citizenship."
In response to today's decision, Lorence said in an ADF statement:
Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country. This decision is a blow to our client and to every American's right to live free. Decisions like this undermine the constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and conscience that we have all taken for granted. America was founded on the fundamental freedom of every citizen to live and work according to their beliefs and not to be compelled by the government to express ideas and messages they decline to support. We are considering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to right this wrong.
A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 85% of Americans support the right of a religious photographer not to participate in a gay-marriage ceremony.
A petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for review is due by mid-November.