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

Previous comments

im not siding with either side. everyone has their opinion. not me.

imo, im certain she received a lot more work from religious folks because of this.

Ian Oliver's picture

Where do we draw the line for when we do and do not force people to do things against their will and beliefs?

There's a difference in serving someone food and photographing their wedding. The former has nothing to do with beliefs, whilst the latter often does.

Or is that true? Can we go in to a Vegan restaurant and demand that they make something non-vegan for us? Or demand that someone from PETA where a fur hat?

Can someone from NAMBLA force a graphic artist or print house to produce signs for their protest against laws forbidding sex with children? While sex with children is illegal, their protest is not (nor should it be even as vile as it is).

Who decides what is and is not worthy of forcing others to comply?

Ian Oliver's picture

Should a naturist be able to force a photographer to shoot their nude wedding? Or should anyone be able to force any photographer to shoot nudes of them or photos of them drinking blood or eating scat?

Tim Ericsson's picture

When what the person is discriminating against isn’t the other person’s choice: that’s the answer.

jim hughes's picture

A restaurant is a licensed business that's required to serve the public and is subject to many laws and ordinances in that regard. A private contractor, like a photographer, has (or should have) the right to refuse a job for any reason - or no reason at all.

Jeff Walsh's picture

"There's a difference in serving someone food and photographing their wedding. The former has nothing to do with beliefs, whilst the latter often does."

Marriage beliefs differ though. So when is it okay to work with someone with different beliefs versus taking this forbidden stance?

Leon Kolenda's picture

For me it's simple. My Christian beliefs are what govern my line in the sand, That does not force anyone against there will or beliefs! It can form an opinion. If I choose my associates or potential friends who I wish not to hang out with because I don't like their values or how they act, is that discrimination? I don't think so!
I don't have two different beliefs, One of commerce, and one None-Commerce. That would be hypocritical.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

So, how is her booking now? Being a preemptive suit, she probably had never shot a gay marriage before. I personally stay away from sue happy people.

Leon Kolenda's picture

How would you know their sue-happy people?

Jason Flynn's picture

Meanwhile Sony had a women-only grant program the editors at Fstoppers seemed to love:
https://alphauniverse.com/alpha-female/

Jeff Walsh's picture

I'll take a different perspective on this. I am an avid Christian believer. In my belief system it says being gay is a sin. I know people will want to attack that, but that's not the point I'm making, so don't expect any response to that at all from me. I am also a photographer who does weddings. Here's my Christian based stance on this: I will photograph gay weddings and there's literally nothing in the Bible that says I shouldn't.

Here's the actual problem from a religious point: This photographer is stating she expects to only serve people within her belief system. But not everyone holds to the same belief system. Even other Christians disagree on issues (again, not the point so don't expect a response). Based on this, she shouldn't be photographing people who've had premarital sex, divorced, living together prior, liars, people who drive above the speed limit...you get the idea.

See, she's drawn this odd and ignorant line in the sand that says being gay is this morally reprehensible "sin" according to Christian belief, but then ignores EVERYTHING else. The worst part, according to Christian belief, Christians aren't supposed to take a stance against how non-Christians behave. The only time Christians are called to behave this way is if someone declares they are a Christians but then behaves in a way that goes directly against Christianity.

So if a gay couple comes and wants me as a photographer, I'm super down to do it. Why? Because they don't believe as I do, plain and simple. I find it very odd that Christians want non-Christians to live as Christians when there's LITERALLY not one biblical reason or benefit for non-Christians to live according to Christian beliefs. I find it even more odd that Christians have taken this insanely drastic stance against gay people, but totally ignore people who are divorced and the Bible talks WAY more about divorce, but then that might actually spill into their own personal relationships and we wouldn't want that now would we. Only take a stance on things that don't directly impact you immediately.

Tom Lew's picture

Wow that was actually really insightful and refreshing.

Simon Patterson's picture

Sounds good on the face of it, but I don't think it adds up.

Replace the same sex wedding with "Satanic mass", "pro Trump event", "anti Trump event", "pit bull fight", "white supremacist rally", "black supremacist rally", "pro life rally", "pro abortion rally", or some other controversial activity, and I hope you'd find yourself drawing a line at some point based on your conscience. You don't get to throw away your sense of morality simply because you're a Christian dealing with non-Christians.

And neither should you expect your fellow Christians to do so, when they draw the line in a place you don't.

Jeff Walsh's picture

The things you listed, outside Satanic Mass aren't based on Christian beliefs, they are sociological. The "fight" against gay marriage is a fight solely based on Christian principals vs secular. I'd absolutely go to both a pro Trump and anti Trump and photograph, the same goes for white and black supremacist, and pro life and abortion. I would do all those things as long as I am there to document the event. If they asked me to come and be there as a means to support the event, now my morals take precedence because I am being asked to do more than document.

Taking photos of an event doesn't equate support, if it does then you might want to talk to every photo journalist who's ever taken photos of horrible things in the world because apparently they now support those awful actions.

I understand the difference between supportive acts, and well anything else. As to the Satanic Mass, again, if I were asked to document it for whatever reason, I would and I would feel nothing against my own beliefs. Why? Because nothing in my beliefs states that I need to close my eyes and turn away from the things that go against my beliefs. In fact, it's my belief that the Bible tells me to do the exact opposite. So, yes, I do expect my fellow Christians to behave in a way that follows the Bible they so adamantly say they believe, yet far too often behave in a way that goes against it.

For some reason, you seem to think that documentation is equal to wholehearted support. I would love to see how it does, because I genuinely would like to see your side of this. I don't at the moment because by being around those who don't believe as I do, I get opportunities to share my beliefs, and have discussions with people who differ. By closing myself off how am I supposed to share what I believe to be an eternity issue?

One last point, Jesus was accused quite often of associating himself with the worst of the worst in his society, and by association was accused of behaving as they do. When this was brought to him, "I am here to seek and save those who are lost," was his response. Based on how I understand your response, Jesus actions to associate with these people was to be taken as support of their wrong doings, which is clearly not the correct stance to have.

Simon Patterson's picture

With your view that wedding photography is like photojournalism to merely take a record of the event, I hope you don't shoot weddings! A wedding photographer is so much more than a record taker, although of course record taking forms an important part of their role. Wedding photography also involves active interaction with the participants, to guide and support them on their special day, to make wonderful pictures that the couple will treasure.

Jesus did point out that it was the sick who knew they needed a doctor, with the analogy being that society's outcasts (especially rich tax collectors who he was roundly criticised for associating with) knew they were sick and needed a doctor (who, in the analogy, is God). The official photographer at a same sex wedding is (or should be, if they're doing their job well) the antithesis of someone calling those who actively engage in the gay lifestyle to instead follow God. So a photographer who is engaged by the participants to shoot a same sex wedding or satantic mass is doing nothing like what Jesus was doing when he went to dinner with tax collectors and other people who knew they were sinners and were attracted to the salvation that Jesus brings.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I guess we'll agree to disagree.

David Pavlich's picture

Being an unapologetic capitalist, I would take a job for payment from just about anyone as long as it doesn't threaten my health or well being. She has chosen to narrow her potential client list and that is her choice.

Mike Yamin's picture

It's one thing to not sell a hamburger to someone for whatever discriminatory reason—that's clearly wrong—but it's another to, say, force a painter to do a nude portrait of stripper if they don't want. To me, that's the difference and it's the crux of this issue.

There's no issue. Nobody forced her to do anything.

And nobody will. In the meantime, she is burdening a court with an imaginary case.

I shoot weddings for people who pay

Regardless of race, creed, colour, pronoun preference, looks, or any other 'isim

If you don't want' em, send them to me

There something I have found out about LGBT community and its all about making people accept them even if it's against their will.
You choose to be gay (no one was born gay). I choose to be straight, why should your personal views be my problem to the point that I need to be forced against my will to render service.
This is how stupid the laws have been put out without caring for the other parties interest. If the law wants to be fair it should and rather stop being a problem rather than a solution.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Just curious, when you say you choose to be straight, do you mean that as you grew up you found both boy and girls sexually attractive, to the point that you found yourself imagining having sex with both the boys you found attractive and the girls you found attractive (human nature does that as the human body develops it's desire to become sexually active)? Then, at some point you made the conscious decision to stop finding one of those sexes sexually attractive, and have since lived with that decision and continue to only find that chosen sex attractive?

I'm really excited to read this response.

Leon Kolenda's picture

That is my point Well said! It's a choice! And because of that, you don't have the right to force your will on a person who doesn't agree with your choices. I have a number of friends who are born with female tendencies, but who are Fully born as either a male or female and they are exactly that! They know who they are biologically, not who society tries to convince them that they are something other than what there true biological bodies are!

Jeff Walsh's picture

See my above response since you also agree with this cognitive choice ideology.