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Court rules it’s illegal for Christians to refuse to photograph same-sex ceremonies

June 05, 2012

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled that it is illegal for a photography business owned by Christians to refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony—even though New Mexico law does not permit same-sex marriage.

The court based its judgment on the text of the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), which makes it illegal “any person in any public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services . . . to any person because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation or physical or mental handicap.”

“Elane Photography’s owners are Christians who believe that marriage is a sacred union of one man and one woman,” the court noted in its opinion. “Elane Photography denied Willock’s request to photograph the ceremony based upon its policy of refusing to photograph images that convey the message that marriage can be defined to include combinations of people other than the union of one man and one woman … They also believe that photography is an artistically expressive form of communication and photographing a same-sex commitment ceremony would disobey God and the teachings of the Bible by communicating a message contrary to their religious and personal beliefs.”

“Elane Photography also poses another hypothetical situation in support of its argument,” the court continued. “The hypothetical involves an African-American photographer’s refusal to photograph a Ku-Klux-Klan rally … the Ku-Klux-Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”

Dismissing arguments that the statute violated the owners’ religious-freedom rights, the court ruled that

the case at bar is generally applicable and neutral; it does not selectively burden any religion or religious belief. The NMHRA applies generally to all citizens transacting commerce and business through public accommodations that deal with the public at large, and any burden on religion or some religious beliefs is incidental and uniformly applied to all citizens … As such, the government need not have a compelling interest to justify the burden it places on individuals who fall under its proscriptions. Because a rational basis exists to support the governmental interest in protecting specific classes of citizens from discrimination in public accommodations, the NMHRA does not violate the free exercise clause protections under the First Amendment.


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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: unum - Jun. 06, 2012 9:04 AM ET USA

    It sounds like the Church's freedom of religion challenge will not be limited to the federal courts. If the secular left can use state statutes, you can bet they will do so.

  • Posted by: jimr451 - Jun. 06, 2012 7:24 AM ET USA

    They refused the job because of the nature of the event - not the nature of the client. So if the client had asked them to photograph a family reunion, they would have taken the job - regardless of the client's orientation. So what if they were asked to photograph a satanic ritual? Would that be protected under the same law? What about pornography? Can you be forced to photograph that, because it deals with sexual orientation? The judge failed to exercise critical thinking skills.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 06, 2012 1:12 AM ET USA

    The progressivist class warfare marches ever forward, while Catholics assess how much ground has been lost in the last three years.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 05, 2012 6:23 PM ET USA

    So you are discriminating against a protected class that is not allowed by law to marry? How does that work exactly? Also, I will have you note the court's reasoning is that there is a 'right' position, morally speaking, and a 'wrong' position. These photographers were found in violation of the 'right' moral position (as same-sex unions are not legal in NM).

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jun. 05, 2012 5:37 PM ET USA

    Very bad, but not very surprising. In the shiny new Progressive world we're being herded into -- often with the eager collaboration of influential Catholics -- everything not forbidden will be compulsory. In the name of social justice, of course.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jun. 05, 2012 4:57 PM ET USA

    As I've said before, this society in general does not want religion to have anything to do with anything outside of our own minds and our own homes. It is not allowed to inform anything but our own private opinions. The only way forward for us as Christians is to simply refuse to obey these unjust laws and face the consequences. If we believe in the reality of the Incarnation and what it means not just for our cocktail party conversations but for all of society then we have no other choice.

  • Posted by: rpp - Jun. 05, 2012 1:03 PM ET USA

    I believe what the judge is saying here is that akin to spitting in your face and calling rain.

  • Posted by: veniteadoremus1822 - Jun. 05, 2012 9:00 AM ET USA

    Perhaps even more lacking in reason than Roe v. Wade. If the argument by the court is true, then the same photography studio would also be compelled to travel to photograph a polygamous wedding, despite the obvious preclusion by civil law. But why stop there? Certainly, there are other types of sexual orientations.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jun. 05, 2012 8:01 AM ET USA

    What an arrogant government, that places "incidental" burdens on "individuals" and "religion" and feels it does not have to justify itself. Hasten the Day of Judgment for them, O Lord!

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jun. 05, 2012 8:00 AM ET USA

    If a photographer doesn't want to take your picture, why would you want to hire them to do so? Does the NMHRA require that Christian photographers say "cheese" with enthusiasm? Can the court force them to do so?