NM Supreme Court will hear case of photographer fined for declining to photograph same-sex ceremony

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court agreed Aug. 16 to review the case of an Albuquerque photographer forced to pay nearly $7,000 for declining to use her artistic expression to help two women "celebrate" a same-sex "commitment" ceremony.

In June, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the 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.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys had filed an appeal asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to review the case.

"Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs," said Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. "We trust the New Mexico Supreme Court will agree, because the government should not be allowed to force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience. The Constitution clearly prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to advance a message with which they disagree."

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. After Elaine declined the request to help them "celebrate" the event, the two women found someone else to photograph their ceremony.

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 Appeals 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."