US Supreme Court Declines New Mexico Wedding Photog’s Discrimination Case

A New Mexico photographer who has been held liable for violating state anti-discrimination laws by refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding has been turned away by the US Supreme Court, where she had sought a review of her case.

Elaine Huguenin, owner of Elane Photography of Albuquerque, had asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a series of lower court rulings that found her in violation New Mexico human rights laws for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The high court declined today without comment to hear Elane Photography’s appeal, effectively upholding three lower court rulings against her.

Huguenin had refused for religious reasons in 2006 to photograph the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock and her partner, Misty Pascottini. Willock filed a complaint to the The New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled in 2008 that Huguenin had violated the state’s anti-dscrimination law.

Huguenin appealed to a New Mexico district court, the New Mexico Court of Appeals, and the New Mexico State Supreme Court. All three upheld the NMHRC ruling.

In appealing to the US Supreme Court for a hearing, Huguenin argued that she should be free under the First Amendment to express herself as a photographer, and that any compulsion to shoot same-sex weddings under New Mexico’s anti-discrimination laws amounted to government-compelled speech that violated her civil rights.

In refusing to hear the case, the US Supreme Court effectively upheld the decision last summer by New Mexico State Supreme Court justice Edward L. Chávez.

He wrote in that decision:  “A commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples.”

Chávez also said in his decision that New Mexico’s human rights law doesn’t compel Elane Photography “to either speak a government-mandated message or to publish the speech of another.”And he said those offering services to the public do not have to give up their First Amendment rights under the the state human rights law because “[t]hey may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

Related:
Photographer Who Refused to Shoot Same-Sex Wedding Loses Another Appeal
NM Wedding Photogs Can’t Discriminate Against Same Sex Couples, Court Confirms

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10 Responses to “US Supreme Court Declines New Mexico Wedding Photog’s Discrimination Case”

  1. Guy With Camera Says:

    This issue should have never been allow to proceed to trial, this was not a hate speech issue.

    Private individuals and privately held businesses have the right to refuse services for any reason, and they are not required to specify what the reason is. If the defendant said I won’t do it because I object to your lifestyle that may make him a jerk but that is not grounds for a law suit, they are also entitled to their opinion. There plenty of other photographers would be more than happy to take that business opportunity that was being offered.
    If they were the only photographer in the state and there were no other options, I could see how that could potentially be a worthy position to litigate.

    The fact that the alleged injured party was allowed to push this case against the photographer into litigation is an abuse of the system.

    Having your photo taken is not a RIGHT, it’s not defined as a civil liberty regardless of whom the subject being photographed is.

    This is politically driven, ambulance chasing witch hunt to make an example out of someone.

    Bottom line, it’s a free market and you may be offended by someone’s refusal to serve you regardless of what the reason is but for every 1 refusal there are dozens of others who would be glad to accept that business. Lawsuits are a losing proposition for everyone. I would happily refuse service to anyone who sue over such a trivial reason and I would be within my rights to do so.

  2. Mat Braun Says:

    Refusing a client for religious reasons is simply wrong. Good thing the courts see it that way, too.

  3. Matt Says:

    Agreed — glad to see the courts have made the correct choice.

  4. Chris Says:

    Matt and Mat, obviously neither of you own your own businesses. The role of a photographer/artist is different than say, the restaurant you probably wait tables at. Taking on clients are at the discretion of the photographer and if they do not feel comfortable shooting something then they have the right to NOT do so. What if it was a satanic service? What if it was an orgy they wanted photographed? You cant come in and demand that the photographer work for you. This sets the precedence for anyone who gets rejected as a client to claim it was discrimination.

    What you’re really saying is that gays have/should have more rights than individual rights and that anyone who exercises their individual right contrary to what a homosexual wants, they should lose their jobs, their name smeared in dung, and then go burn in hell -because eff them.

  5. Hank Shiffman Says:

    Guy With Camera, your first two statements are wrong on their face. First, this is not about hate speech; it’s about discrimination. Refusing to serve someone because of their sexual orientation is as illegal as doing so based on their religion. All of the courts who ruled on the case and its appeals have agreed to that.

    And second, private businesses do not have a right to refuse service for any reason or no reason at all. Lunch counters don’t get to refuse service to black patrons any more, and now businesses don’t get to refuse gay couples. The courts have and will continue to rule. You may not think it’s fair or right, but it’s the law now.

  6. Danny Says:

    Chris writes:
    “Matt and Mat, obviously neither of you own your own businesses. The role of a photographer/artist is different than say, the restaurant you probably wait tables at. ”

    Speaking as someone who does own their own business and has been in business for 20+ years, let me explain in plain english: In the USA according to the Constitution. all people are equal and entitle to the same rights as anyone else. A business owner can indeed decline the patronage of an individual potential customer, but cannot discriminate against an entire class ( the legal term for a group of people with similar characteristics such as race, creed, color of skin, religious identification, gender, and sexual identity) of people. Whether they say they do discriminate explicitly (as the studio in New Mexico did) or it can be proved that they do it with a consistent pattern of behavior is irrelevant.

    “What if it was a satanic service? ” As much as it may pain me and you, whether the couple is Amish, Anabaptist, atheist, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian Scientist, Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Mennonite, Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Pagan, Scientologist, Wiccan, Zen Buddhist or worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. makes no difference under the law: if you discriminate because of their religious beliefs or lack of belief, you are violating that person’s civil rights as a citizen.

    “What if it was an orgy they wanted photographed?”

    I don’t know of anyone who worships orgies. I suspect that is a red herring.

    “You cant come in and demand that the photographer work for you. This sets the precedence for anyone who gets rejected as a client to claim it was discrimination.”

    Of course not but in this case the same gender couple did not “demand” the photography studio work for them. The studio owners actively discriminated against them.

    “What you’re really saying is that gays have/should have more rights than individual rights and that anyone who exercises their individual right contrary to what a homosexual wants, they should lose their jobs, their name smeared in dung, and then go burn in hell -because eff them.”

    No. That is how YOU want to interpret the ruling. A more clearheaded reasoning is that homosexuals are entitled to exactly the same rights as everyone else, no more and no less.

    Put yourself in the couple’s shoes. For example, If you are a Christian and wear a prominently displayed crucifix, entered a restaurant and were refused service because the restaurant had a policy of not serving Christians, you would be entitled to the same protection under the law as this couple was.

  7. Robert Says:

    I wonder what the photographer was sentenced to by the court. A fine?

    Generally, we live in a society that increasingly accepts people with different bearings in terms of world view, religion, sexuality. If you have ever lived in a country with a recent past of suppression, you will appreciate this tolerance.

    That said, no matter how tolerant a person is, no person with a working brain can like everybody and all the views and opinions. If you love things and appreciate things you will dislike things that don’t go with it, or are contrary to it.

    The key is how you deal with it.

    Let’s say you have a client you don’t want to work for. It’s your right. But you shouldn’t say ” I don’t like you, I don’t want to work for you.” That’s insulting.

    You better be diplomatic about it and say you have no time slot available. And if the person is really aggressive you simply quote an extra high price. That’s how to handle personal views.

    But to say into his face you decline to work for him because he’s catholic, jewish, white, gay affects the very substance of tolerance that keeps this society working. Especially in a society like this one where there are many large, and very distinctly different groups of people any kind of intolerance could cause a big problem.

    This is why the courts decided as they did: to defend the greater good of a tolerant society.

  8. Bruno Schreck Says:

    Seems like this is an issue of “works made for hire”. Not recognized by anything I’ve heard is that photography is an art form, a creative act! Why didn’t her lawyers recognize that.
    The wedding would have been a commissioned work, her paperwork should have distinguished that her work was not a work made for hire. She retains copyright and the photos are for defined use only. To require that an artist must perform against their will and creative intentions is slavery. The law has plenty of precedent cases regarding that.
    I must point out that I, in fact, have covered such events without reservation (even 30 years ago when it was a real controversy). But a photographer has rights of free expression, just as gay people do, and I understand the photogs refusal. I don’t understand how any discriminated person could then assail another for their beliefs.

  9. Bruno Schreck Says:

    “Justice Chávez reasoned that the NMHRA doesn’t compel Elane Photography “to either speak a government-mandated message or to publish the speech of another.”

    The Judge’s point might be valid, except that the photographer would be compelled to show up at the wedding, against her will, and to use her talents to represent the event to the best of her abilities (or be sued for that too). Where were the photog’s lawyers on this?
    Seems like she was screwed for her sincerity.

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