Christian photographer sues Virginia over law that may force him to service gay weddings

A same-sex wedding cake topper is seen outside the East Los Angeles County Recorder's Office on Valentine's Day during a news event for National Freedom to Marry Week in Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 14, 2012. | Reuters/David McNew

A professional photographer has filed a lawsuit against a new Virginia law that he says would force him to violate his sincerely held Christian beliefs by requiring him to provide his services to same-sex weddings.

Chris Herring filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, against the newly enacted Virginia Values Act.

Signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in April, the law prohibits businesses from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The lawsuit is a “pre-enforcement challenge,” as Herring has not yet been punished for refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony in violation of the new law.

According to the lawsuit, Herring would be forced to violate his conscience, specifically his belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

“The Accommodations Clause [of the new law] forces Chris to provide photography services for same-sex engagements or weddings and would require Chris to promote messages that violate his religious beliefs or require him to participate in religious ceremonies that violate his religious beliefs,” reads the suit in part.

“This undercuts Chris’ message (expressed elsewhere in his photographs, blog, and Facebook account) celebrating marriage between one man and one woman; harms Chris’ reputation among his past and prospective clients; and adversely affects Chris’ ability to share biblical truths about marriage with others.”

Herring is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that has successfully argued religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs said in a statement released Wednesday that he believed artists like Herring “shouldn’t be censored, fined, or forced out of business simply for disagreeing with the government’s preferred views.”

“Because of Virginia’s new law, Chris faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith, or close down,” said Scruggs.

“No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with, and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear.”

Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin, Senate Bill 868, the Virginia Values Act extended anti-discrimination measures to include LGBT individuals.

In a statement released in April, Northam said the new law made the Commonwealth “a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”

“We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly,” he stated. “No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”   

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