Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Mexico District Court judge rules against wedding photographer who refused to photograph same-sex commitment ceremony

Elaine Photography, LLC v. Vanessa Willock, mem. op. (N.M. 2nd Dist. 2008-06632 Dec. 11, 2009) [permanent link here]

In September 2006, Elaine Huguenin, of Elaine Photography, refused Ms. Willock's request to photograph her civil same-sex commitment ceremony, even though Huguenin and her husband devote their New Mexico business to photographing "traditional" weddings and graduations. Although she hired another photographer, Willock filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Commission, alleging that Elaine Photography represents a public accomodation under the state anti-discrimination law, and that the business had discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation. The Commission ruled in favor of Willock. Elaine Photography appealed the ruling to New Mexico's Second Judicial District Court. The Court has just issued summary judgment against the business, finding, among other things, that the Commission's decision does not abridge her free exercise of religion, or her free speech, under the Frist Amendment.

Some legal scholars have claimed that the case involves a same-sex "union" and sole business proprietors whose religious liberty has been infringed. (In fact, New Mexico does not recognize civil unions.) They have also claimed that it reveals a fundamental conflict between religious liberty and marriage equality. For further discussion, see this post by law professor John Culhane, in which he references another post by law professor Dale Carpenter.)

Elaine Photography will appeal the Court's ruling, with the Alliance Defense Fund as counsel.

12/22/09 Leonard Link, by law professor Arthur Leonard:
Plaintiffs complained that the NM Human Rights Act was not "neutral" with respect to religion because it exempted religious institutions from having to comply with the sexual orientation non-discrimination provision, but provided no such exemption for religious individuals. Consequently, they challenged the constitutionality of the act, arguing that New Mexico had no compelling interest sufficient to justify such an abridgement of religious freedom. [Judge] Malott rejected this argument, finding that the act was perfectly neutral with respect to religion, and was not intended to discriminate on grounds of religion. But even if a compelling interest were needed to justify it, he found one: the state's desire to stamp out discrimination by businesses offering goods and services to the public.

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