June 7, 2012 (LifeSitenews.com) – A New Mexico appeals court has upheld a lower court verdict that a photography studio that refused to shoot a same-sex “wedding” on religious grounds is guilty of “sexual orientation discrimination” under state law.
According to the court’s verdict, the trouble began for Elane Photography when the company was contacted by lesbian Vanessa Willock asking if they could photograph a “commitment ceremony” for Willock and her “partner.” The company, owned by Christian couple Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, responded stating that they only shoot traditional weddings, and do not do “same-sex weddings,” but thanked Willock for her interest.
The following day, Willock’s anonymous “partner” sent an email to Elane Photography stating that she was going to “marry,” without stating that the “marriage” would be between herself and a woman. She asked if the company could travel to the location of the event, and was told that it could.
The two emails would be used as proof that the Huguenins were discriminating against Willock in her suit against the company, and resulted in a judgment of $6,637.94 against the defendant.
Although the government of New Mexico does not recognize same-sex “marriage,” civil unions, or domestic partnerships for homosexuals, the court ruled that Elane Photography had engaged in illegal discrimination based on sexual preference under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA).
The court brushed aside the claim that photography is a form of “speech” protected under state and federal law, ruling, “The NMHRA does not force Elane Photography to endorse any message or modify its own speech in any way. Rather, the NMHRA requires Elane Photography merely to offer its photography services without discrimination against any member of a protected class.”
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It also dismissed the argument that compelling the owners of the company to photograph such weddings would constitute a violation of freedom of religion, stating, “the burden on freedom of religion experienced by Elane Photography is unclear.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, which was representing the couple, has decided to appeal the case to a higher court.
“Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy?
“Of course not, and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience. Because the U.S. Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to promote a message they disagree with, we will certainly appeal this decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.”
Law professor and legal commentator Eugene Volokh denounced the decision as an attack on freedom of speech protections.
“It seems to me that the right to be free from compelled speech includes the right not to create First-Amendment-protected expression — photographs, paintings, songs, press releases, or what have you — that you disagree with, even if no-one would perceive you as endorsing that expression,” he wrote in his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy.
Volokh cites the U.S. Supreme Court case of Wooley v. Maynard (1978), in which a state license plate containing a motto that drivers disagreed with was seen as violating the first amendment, even though no reasonable person would be believe that the bearers of the plate were in agreement with the motto.
“It follows even more strongly, I think, that people should have a First Amendment right not to create expression that they don’t wish to create, regardless of whether outsiders would perceive such creation as an endorsement of the message,” said Volokh.