Department of Justice Sides With Kentucky Photographer Who Refuses to Shoot Gay Weddings

Department of Justice Sides With Kentucky Photographer Who Refuses to Shoot Gay Weddings

A Kentucky-based photographer who refuses to photograph same-sex weddings is being backed in her legal battle by the Department of Justice, which says requiring her to do so would be “violat[ing] her sincerely held religious beliefs,” and “invades her First Amendment rights.” She is fighting against a Louisville ordinance that bans local businesses from discriminating against homosexual customers.

Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said:

 The First Amendment forbids the government from forcing someone to speak in a manner that violates individual conscience. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to protect the right of all persons to exercise their constitutional right to speech and expression.

The legal battle began back in November, when photographer Chelsey Nelson claimed the ordinance violates her First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise of religion, citing her Christian view that “God created marriage to be an exclusive covenant between one man and one woman.”

The suit reads:

Chelsey would decline any request for wedding celebration services or boutique editing services for a same-sex wedding, polygamous wedding, or an open marriage wedding because creating artwork promoting these events would violate Chelsey’s religious and artistic beliefs.

Nelson’s attorneys are now using the Free Speech Clause to block the enforcement of such Louisville law, on the grounds that forcing her to photograph a same-sex wedding “violates the Constitution.”

Bizarrely, the lawsuit also says Nelson would “happily” work on a wedding between a homosexual man and a woman.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief in defense of the city, arguing that Nelson's intent to offer her services only to opposite-sex couples violates the city law. The ACLU brief called Nelson’s wishes “identity-based discrimination.”

The case continues.

Lead image by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash.

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86 Comments

Tom Lew's picture

What gear does she use?

Paul Kremer's picture

My question in these situations is always: If a photographer doesn't want to shoot your wedding because of religious beliefs, why would you want them to?

Your photographer will be responsible for creating the memories of your wedding for to you remember forever. If you get a court to force them to shoot your wedding against their will, what kind of pictures are you hoping to get? If they're grossed out when you kiss, are they focusing on creating a beautiful and artistic image? Or on the fact that they're being forced by the government to shoot pictures of something that grosses them out?

I understand nobody wants to feel discriminated against, but I also don't like the idea of forcing people to go against their religious beliefs. I don't understand why any homosexual couple would want a photographer that wasn't 100% focused on their day.

Don't usually get good art at the barrel of a gun. If this person wants to throw away business let them.

I think what's important to understand in this case (and especially telling about the whole situation) is that her claim wasn't preceded by any couple actually asking her to shoot their wedding and her refusing on moral grounds. She proactively filed this suit ahead of any actual encounter. This isn't a case about a photographer being "victimized" by what some would perceive as "self-righteous homosexuals who are out to make a point". This is a case about someone who is seeking to persecute based on the same argument that should protect those she wishes to discriminate against. Of course only a fundamentalist a**hole would still think being gay is a "belief".

To everybody who treated this woman as a victim when they (barely) read the original story, she's not. She went on the offensive here; this isn't the result of her being "forced" to do anything. I think that's an incredibly important distinction when you think about who is discriminating against who.

Simon Patterson's picture

She hasn't gone on the "offensive". She's not attacking anyone. She's simply trying to ensure the law can't be used against her in the same way such laws have already been used against others who share her world view.

She's using her religion to discriminate against people who exist in a way that is completely outside of their control, just like you don't get to choose your race / ethnicity / color etc. If you're straight, you don't choose that either, you just are. She's trying to use the First Amendment to shield her from claims of discrimination, by saying that she would be discriminated against based on her religious beliefs.

I'm sorry, but you don’t get to claim that you’re being discriminated against simply because you’re being told you can’t discriminate. That’s not how it works, and that's what this is about.

Simon Patterson's picture

Dave F I'm sorry but the Department of Justice disagrees with you.

Leon Kolenda's picture

Guess I'm an A__Hole. It's a clear choice based on societal peer pressure! It would be a whole lot easier to just tell the potential gay clients that you're booked for the rest of the year, or there requested date.

Bert McLendon's picture

When did you choose to be straight?

Isn't lying kind of against the rules?

Leon Kolenda's picture

Not if it's against my morals!

Lying is supposed to be against your morals too. Or is lying good as long as you're lying for Jesus?

David Pavlich's picture

Do you believe in freedom of choice? She made HER choice. If you believe in freedom of choice, then why the post?

Using religious beliefs to justify discrimination does not make you discriminated against when you're told you can't discriminate.

David Pavlich's picture

Then you tell me...whose rights do we trample? I can't speak for the other countries, but the First Amendment of the US Constitution is, in part, freedom of religion. I'm about as agnostic as it gets, but freedom of choice is freedom of choice. There are parts of living in a free society that make some things a bit uncomfortable. I'm also just about as Libertarian as it gets, so the thought of an ever more invasive government is not good. If people's choices aren't injuring others, taking away their rights, or taking away their freedoms, then what they do is just fine.

This lady isn't the only photographer in town. It is not harming those that she doesn't wish to photograph, it isn't taking away their freedom of choice, and it isn't impeding their freedoms, period.

True. That's what I don't get in this entire ongoing debate. Does a photographer have ANY choice with whom they do or don't want to do business? If there's no chemistry or the person is rude can a photographer choose to say they don't want to shoot the wedding? Or are will they be forced into litigation because that would be discrimination?

I don't know. It's not just about sexuality. Is there any situation where a photographer can have discretion with whom they choose to photograph or no? If so, does that harm or discriminate against anyone? If not, is it fair to remove any discretion from a photographer?

Leon Kolenda's picture

I believe in freedom of choice governed by my religious beliefs!

David Pavlich's picture

As it should be.

No. It really shouldn't be. You shouldn't be allowed to discriminate based on your religion. What's to stop a racist business owner from denying service to black people based on his/her "religious beliefs"? What about a myriad other bigoted "beliefs" that would allow one to discriminate against anyone? Christians cry persecution when a company says "happy holidays" instead of "merry christmas" but then turn around and defend blatant discrimination against others.

David Pavlich's picture

So if I read you correctly, you believe we should be tolerant of others unless it has to do with religion, correct? Again, in the states, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion.

I'm not religious and would never use religion as a reason to bolster an argument for myself, but I don't wish to trample on the rights, again, in the states where this particular case exists, of others, especially when guaranteed by the Constitution. My opinion. Your's is in disagreement. That's why there are courts and in this case, she won in court.

You seem to misunderstand the purpose of that part of the first amendment, freedom of religion codifies the separating of church and state, and guarantees the freedom to worship whatever god you want.
It does not give you the right to impose your religious beliefs on others. It also doesn't mean by virtue of believing in a certain god that you are exempt from various laws.
You and your religious beliefs do not exist in a vacuum. Superimposing your beliefs on others and denying them their right to participate equally in society is not grated by the freedom to worship, and as others have pointed out, was used for decades to deny African Americans equal participation in society.

David Pavlich's picture

A photographer is not imposing his/her religion on someone because he/she doesn't want to photograph them. Imposing religion is attempting to force someone to believe/convert to their religion. The photographer is practicing his/her religion, not imposing on the potential client.

Now, if the photographer is the only choice, then there's a problem.

Like I said, I'm not religious at all. I'm playing Devil's advocate. I can't imagine being that religious, but there's a LOT of people that practice their religion that are discriminated against because of their religion.

Serge Chabert's picture

Yeah, and suppose all photographers in the area think like her?? Is she is able to discriminate, other are as well. So here is a problem.

David Pavlich's picture

And everybody that has eaten a carrot will die one day. Your point is a straw dog. All photographers aren't religious. Fact is, I know a LOT of photographers and not one of them is cut from the same cloth as the lady in question. The pros I know like to be paid and don't really care who's paying them.

Your statement reminds me of people that say if all of us were gay, human kind would disappear in no time. Good grief.

Simon Patterson's picture

It's not the genuine people who want wedding photos that are a threat to her. It's the activists who set out to use the law against people with her beliefs that are the threat she's mitigating against.

So maybe she shouldn’t discriminate against minorities? That way there wouldn’t be activists using the law against her since you know...she wouldn’t be doing anything that’s against the law.

Simon Patterson's picture

Well that's what the issue is all about: what is the appropriate law to best avoid unfair discrimination against anyone?

This lady, her lawyers and the Department of Justice have one view, and some others disagree with them.

How about just "don't be an asshole" if it's unwarranted? We're all people, regardless of sexuality, nationality, or any other "ality". Why preemptively file a law suit just to not provide services to a segment of people you find "icky"? What does that really accomplish other than show everyone that you're just a bad person? And yes, I will go so far as to say that you're a bad person if you deny people service based solely on their sexuality, or their sex, or their nationality, or their political affiliation. Or any other superficial reason people use as an excuse to not be a good person to a fellow human being.

LA M's picture

That logic doesn't fly.

If emancipated slaves in the USA accepted "white's only" restaurants, bars etc where would our society be today?

The civil rights movement was the change.

LA M's picture

"It's frustrating to wait for change to occur naturally but that results in much more enduring change."

As an African descendant...tell me about it!

Well over 400 years and many people still haven't evolved.

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