Court Rules Against New Mexico Wedding Photographer for Same-Sex Discrimination
Yesterday, wedding photographer Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography, LLC was ruled against by the New Mexico Supreme Court stating that she cannot discriminate against same-sex couples. This is a direct result of Vanessa Willock of Albuquerque filling a complaint on December 20, 2006 against Elaine. After inquiring to Elaine about photography for her September 21, 2006 wedding day, Vanessa received an email response back for her same-sex wedding that she was not what she expected.
Vanessa’s initial response email inquiring about her wedding day, she received the following email back from Elaine.
As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singer’s portfolios.
Unsure if Elaine was saying that she does not provide same-sex wedding photography, she sent a response back.
Thanks for your response below of September 21, 2006. I’m a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response. Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?
Elaine later responded,
Sorry if our last response was a confusing one. Yes, you are connect in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day.
Elaine claimed to have denied the event due to her religious beliefs. But then, Vanessa had her then fiancée, Misti Collinsworth, contact Elaine and not mention it was a same-sex commitment ceremony. She received a more than welcoming response back.
Thanks so much for contacting us. I would definitely [sic] be willing to travel to Ruidoso for your wedding. I have attached some information that should be helpful as far as prices and packages. There is also another attachment concerning “print credits” – it explains what online proofing is, because it’s something that is a bit newer and not everyone may know what it is yet. Hopefully these items will help you sort some things out. Also, I would love to meet up with you sometime, if you are interested, to show you more of my recent book, along with an example of the “coffee table book” that included in all of our packages. My place of choice is Satellite… Good luck with your planning, and I hope to talk with you soon!
The initial complaint was investigated by the state’s Human Rights Commission, in which they deemed the decision discriminatory. That decision was then upheld in June of 2012 by the New Mexico Court of Appeals. After that, it was appealed again by Elane Photography to the state supreme court claiming photography was an “expressive” medium therefor protection under the First Amendment was claimed. The ACLU stated on their website “that taking photographs for hire is a commercial service subject to commercial regulation. A commercial business cannot solicit customers from the general public to buy its services as a photographer for hire and then claim that taking those photographs is a form of its own autonomous expressive activity.”
After appeal after appeal by Elaine, The New Mexico Court of Appeals finally concluded 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 [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. 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.”
Although this was only a commitment ceremony, same-sex marriage was not legal at the time of the inquiry, nor at any time during the initial decisions. Santa Fe started issuing same-sex marraige licenses on April 24, 2013. The final decision in the case came yesterday, which also happens to be the same day that the same-sex marraiges will now be issued marraige licenses in Doña Ana County. The county clerk, Lynn Ellins, expressed “After careful review of New Mexico’s laws it is clear that the state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act.” Upon searching for any websites still linked to a possible business for Elane Photography a sister website was started by Tom Alciere in response to the trial.