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

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Charles J's picture

"In the case of homosexuality, it seems to me, and this based on my own observations, societal attitudes have changed on their own and not as a result of any laws."

That is simply not true.

Chad Andreo's picture

Simply, one is based on Biblical beliefs, the other isn’t.
Although some form of slavery appears in the Bible, what our people went and still goes through is man-made.
Every movement(religious, sex, anti-vaccination, etc.) should be treated individually imho.

LA M's picture

Also a non-sensical argument.

What's to stop a white person from saying serving blacks is against his/her religious beliefs?

It seems our country has no shortage of people who invent their own religion in order to practice non-mainstream lifestyles.

David Moore's picture

This, so much this.

David Pavlich's picture

You saved me a lot of typing! :-)

Henry Canyons's picture

I couldn't agree more. What is the point of forcing someone to do something they don't want to do? The health and safety of the soon-to-be-married couple are not at risk; finding another photographer requires nothing more than a phone call. Chances are, the couple wouldn't be getting the photographer's best work, anyway. This suit was all about forcing a personal belief onto someone else. The hypocrisy comes from those who agree with the couple who also boycott others (e.g., refusing to serve Republicans in restaurants). For the record, I'd gladly shoot the wedding but would never impose my religious values on someone else.

Deleted Account's picture

There are numerous reasons one might choose a vendor. Perhaps this photographer happened to fall within their budget. Maybe they live in an area where a lot of people share the same view. Regardless, a professional should be able to provide competent services in accordance with their skill (even if it may not be the most "inspired" work) when hired by a client regardless of personal beliefs.

Why would a black person want to shop at a place where the owner is a racist who hates black people? Why would a Muslim person want to go to a grocery store where the owner doesn't want to serve Muslims? You can ask why anyone would want to do business with someone who hates them, but they do and sometimes there's not a whole lot of choice in the matter. That's why laws exist to protect consumers from discrimination. If I am black, I shouldn't be forced to spend extra resources in terms of time, energy, or cost to locate a vendor that doesn't hate my guts because to do so would be penalizing me for someone else's intolerance.

You can argue whether homosexuality should be a protected class the same way that race is, but honestly all of this crap would be a whole lot simpler if people kept their personal belief systems out of business transactions. You can photograph a gay wedding without personally endorsing it just like you can sell groceries to a black person while thinking that they should still be slaves. We live in a secular society and it would be better for its overall function if people kept whatever baggage they have out of commerce.

Blake Aghili's picture

I mean what a stupid photographer!!! Just say sorry I am booked that date !

Simon Patterson's picture

I'd say lying to people is likely outside her code of ethics. I don't think that's stupid at all.

Simon Patterson's picture

...until the next activists who are a heterosexual couple come in and ask if you're free that day, to discover you are. Suddenly they compare notes with their gay associates you previously turned down, and you're in a world of pain. Now you need to find another excuse which isn't the reason you're not going to shoot the same sex marriage.

Simon Patterson's picture

It's the activists on an attempted witch hunt that she's protecting herself from. The genuine people who just want a photographer for their ceremony aren't the issue.

Simon Patterson's picture

Did the PC police advise you that your views were not compliant with the prevailing view, so you deleted them all?! 😁

Jeff McCollough's picture

Actually I was trying to Google myself to check my website's ranking and one of the first results is my Fstoppers portfolio and my 900+ comments here. There is no way to delete them all at once or delete them at all for that matter which I don't appreciate. I'd rather not soil my work or potential business with any comments I might make here.

Simon Patterson's picture

That's a smart move, actually.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah these sue crazy folks might not like my comments and want to harass me.

Simon Patterson's picture

Lol, I can see another round of deletions coming on! 😂

Bernhard Vogler's picture

never understand these kind of lawsuits; looks like they try to get attention ; that's all.

Marc Perino's picture

2 things that leave a bad taste in my mouth:
1) Nobody „forced“ her yet to shoot a gay wedding. It is more of a „preemptive strike“.

2) According to a few other articles her lawyers have been „provided“ by the „Alliance Defending Freedom“, a conservative Christian nonprofit that says it „defends“ religious freedom.

I am no lawyer but if she would be offended by a gay marriage why she doesn‘t say that she is overbooked?!
On the other hand - after that lawsuit - I guess there is no gay couple who want to book her anyway.

It is a stupid lawsuit for a stupid problem that she does not have. She just seems to be a puppet for a conservative group to enforce their agenda.

jay holovacs's picture

Claiming overbooking will not work. In situations like this, the business owner needs to prove the overbooking and to demonstrate there is no history of such. Meanwhile, activists in situations like this tend to target a business over and over again to try to prove a 'pattern'. When they win a case like this, there is often a large financial judgement (surprise!).

Normally a court wouldn't even look at a situation like this in anticipation of a challenge unless there was as significant issue at stake. I applaud the court for taking that step. Other than certain rare critical situations (treating a sick patient for example) no one should be forced to enter a contract against their conscience. There is certainly no shortage of available photographers or cake bakers.

The freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment was intended to protect freedom of conscience. The critical concept of liberty has unfortunately been driven into the background by by a hodgepodge of pressure groups and special treatment laws that create arbitrary 'rights'.

(I am not a Christian, in fact I'm an atheist. But protecting the right to conscience is essential to freedom.)

Ed Sanford's picture

Whoa there.... the freedom of religion clause has nothing to do with conscience. It is two simple concepts divided into two clauses. First, it says that the state (I.e. the government) cannot establish a religion; that is the establishment clause. Second, it says that a citizen is free to practice or exercise religion as he/she chooses including not having a religion at all; that is the free exercise clause. It’s that simple and straightforward. Now what complicates the matter is that courts have ruled that religious rights should be protected. That is a murky area where their appears to be no simple answers. Nevertheless, there is nothing there about conscience.

Studio 403's picture

Regardless of what wing you land in, This lawsuit regardless of its merit, is pushing back on the City Of Louisville, some believe is overreaching folks civil liberties. A lifetime resident of KY, I see the growing tension of the various wings of thought. Like someone said, “it is forbidden to forbidden”. And it takes two wings to fly. I hope our beloved cities in KY can find that balance.

sam dasso's picture

There is not such a thing as bad publicity. By proclaiming that she is devoted Christian she most likely will get business from devoted Christians she wouldn't gotten otherwise. She would lose business from gays, but there are much more fundamentalist Christians (or Muslims for this matter) than gays. Just like Chik-fil-a had lines around the corner when gays called for boycott. Colorado baker who won Supreme court case stopped doing wedding cakes altogether when state court ordered him to do wedding cakes for gays, but in show of support people lined up for blocks to buy pastry from him.

Stuart Carver's picture

The very definition of first world problems. All a bit pathetic.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

If you as a photographer refuse to do a job, because you feel you cannot go for 100% for it - you're entitled to do so. If you're smart - you don't explain why you won't take it - not to hurt the other party's feelings.
A badly motivated photographer will probably make a mess of the images too - another reason it's best to stay honest about these matters.
This mess started when they explained why they refused to do the shooting.
All these cases are a worthless waste of money - this should not have been allowed to go into the courts.
We should also understand that the reaction hurts the couple's feelings though - but it's not a good idea to make a case out of it, it won't help to solve this kind of discrimination.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Enjoy being on the wrong side of history, schmucks:

Erpillar Bendy's picture

It's no surprise. This Justice Department works for the President who started his real estate empire renting to whites only.

Chuck Cunningham's picture

Bob Barr strikes again!

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