The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Christian wedding photographer violated the state’s human rights law by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.
New Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that photographer Elaine Huguenin violated a lesbian couple's rights by refusing to photograph their commitment ceremony. (Image via Alliance Defending Freedom)
This shouldn't be the end of the matter, said Ken Klukowski, the director for Center for Religious Liberty at the conservative Family Research Council.
“This decision would stun the framers of the U.S. Constitution, is a gross violation of the First Amendment, and should now be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm the basic principle that the fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion do not stop at the exit door of your local church, and instead extend to every area of a religious person's life,” he said in a written statement.
Klukowski added, “Rather than live-and-let-live, this is forcing religious Americans to violate the basic teachings of their faith, or lose their jobs.”
The Albuquerque-based photography studio Elane Photography did not want to photograph the ceremony between Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth because studio co-owner Elaine Huguenin said it would violate her Christian beliefs and that the company only photographs traditional marriages.
The majority opinion for the court stated that the studio violated the rights of the lesbian couple “in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of two different races.”
A Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe a photographer has the right to turn down a same-sex wedding job.
The state of New Mexico does not recognize gay marriage or civil unions, hence the couple was having a “commitment ceremony.”
The opinion further stated that the New Mexico Human Rights Act does not violate the photographer’s First Amendment because it “does not compel Elane Photography to either speak a government-mandated message or to publish the speech of another.”
Attorney Jordan Lorence, with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal firm specializing in religious liberty cases, said the ruling prioritizes gay rights over religious liberty.
“Government-coerced expression is a feature of dictatorships that has no place in a free country,” Lorence said. “This decision is a blow to our client and every American’s right to live free.”
But Amber Royster, the executive director of Equality New Mexico, called this an important victory.
“What it came down to is this was a case about discrimination,” she told Fox News. “While we certainly believe we are all entitled to our religious beliefs, religious beliefs don’t necessarily make it okay to break the law by discriminating against others.”
Royster said forcing a business that offers services to the public to abide by discrimination laws does not violate the First Amendment – and does not pit gay rights against religious rights.
“It’s about discrimination,” she said. “It’s not religious rights versus gay rights. We have a law on the books that makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBT persons. It makes it illegal for business to do that and this business broke the law by discriminating against this couple.”