NM Supreme Court: Christian Photographers Can't Refuse Gay Weddings

In New Mexico, professional photographers may not refuse to work at gay weddings, that state's Supreme Court decided Thursday.

When Elane Photography refused to work for Vanessa Willock at her same-sex wedding, the Court said, it violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based upon sexual orientation.

"First, we conclude that a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the NMHRA and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples," Justice Edward Chavez wrote for the majority.

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Chavez also wrote that refusing to work at a same-sex wedding is equivalent to refusing to work at a mixed-race wedding: "Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."

Elane Photography is not protected by their rights to freely exercise their religion, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution, because the NMHRA is a "neutral law of general applicability," the Court said. This means that the law does not target a specific religious group when it restricts Elane Photography's religious freedom.

In the proceedings, Elane Photography argued that it did not discriminate based upon sexual orientation because it would have photographed same-sex couples in other contexts. It was only the conveyance of a same-sex marriage in the company's photos that conflicted with the owner's religious beliefs.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Richard Bosson said that Elane Photography must be forced to violate their religious beliefs because of "the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. ... it is the price of citizenship."

"The idea that free people can be 'compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives' as the 'price of citizenship' is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom," said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom and one of the lawyers for Elane Photography. "Americans are now on notice that the price of doing business is their freedom. We are considering our next steps, including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to right this wrong."

In a Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 adults conducted last month, 85 percent of respondents said that a Christian wedding photographer should be able to turn down work for a same-sex wedding.

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