The New Mexico Supreme Court has agreed to review the case of a Christian photographer who was forced to pay a fine of nearly $7,000 for refusing to photograph a same-sex "commitment" ceremony of two women.
The court decided Thursday that it will hear the case that involves artist Elaine Huguenin, who runs Elane Photography along with her husband Jon Huguenin in Albuquerque, N.M. She had been asked by the N.M. Human Rights Commission to pay the hefty fine for declining to photograph a "commitment ceremony" that Vanessa Willock and another woman wanted to hold in Taos, N.M., in 2006.
In June, attorneys with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Christian legal ministry Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) appealed a N.M. Court of Appeals decision that upheld a 2008 ruling by the commission that the photography company was guilty of "sexual orientation" discrimination under state antidiscrimination laws.
"Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence said in a statement.
Elaine Huguenin, the company's head photographer, had declined the request to help the two women "celebrate" the event because her and her husband's Christian beliefs are in conflict with the message the ceremony would have sent out. The two women found someone else to photograph their ceremony.
"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," added Lorence, senior vice-president of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for ADF at its Washington, D.C., Regional Service Center. "The Constitution clearly prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to advance a message with which they disagree."
State law does not recognize either marriage or civil unions between persons of the same sex. However, based on a complaint filed by Willock, the commission held a one-day trial and then issued an order in April 2008, determining that Elane Photography was a "public accommodation" under NMSA 1978, Section 28-1-2(H) (2007) and that the evidence demonstrated that it violated Section 28-1-7(F) by discriminating against Willock based upon her sexual orientation. The commission ordered the company to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys' fees to Willock.
"Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy?" Lorence had asked before filing the appeal in June. "Of course not, and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience."