Court rules it's illegal to refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled June 4 that it is illegal for a photography business to turn down photographing a same-sex ceremony even though it is contrary to the religious and personal beliefs of the business owners.

The court ruling upholds the previous decision by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission against an Albuquerque photography company. The commission ruled that the company, run by a young Christian husband and wife, was guilty of "sexual orientation" discrimination under state antidiscrimination laws for declining to photograph a same-sex "commitment ceremony," even though New Mexico does not permit same-sex marriages.

"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 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."

In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Elaine Huguenin — co-owner with her husband, Jon Huguenin, of Elane Photography in Albuquerque — to photograph a "commitment ceremony" that Willock and another woman wanted to hold in Taos. The two women eventually held their ceremony using a different photographer.

New Mexico law does not recognize either marriage or civil unions between persons of the same sex.

Elaine Huguenin declined because her and her husband's Christian beliefs are in conflict with the message communicated by the ceremony. Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, accusing Elane Photography of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The commission held a one-day trial and then issued an order in April 2008 finding that Elane Photography engaged in "sexual orientation" discrimination prohibited under state law, ordering it to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys' fees to Willock.

The Court noted in its 45-page ruling that the photography company is a "public accommodation" and therefore cannot discriminate under the state "sexual orientation" law.

"The owners of Elane Photography must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed upon the conduct of their commercial enterprise despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with these governmental interests," the judges wrote.

"Services, facilities and accommodations are available to the general public through a variety of resources. Elane Photography takes advantage of these available resources to market to the public at large and invite them to solicit services offered by its photography business," continued the judges.

The "Ku Klux Kan is not a protected class," wrote the judges. "Sexual orientation, however is protected."

In December 2009, ADF appealed a trial judge's ruling that upheld the commission's decision in the case, Elane Photography v. Willock.