A legal settlement in Virginia will allow wedding photographer Bob Updegrove to refuse services for same-sex couples while publicizing that policy on his website. This comes after Updegrove filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's 2020 anti-discrimination law.
The settlement stipulates that Virginia will not enforce the Virginia Values Act against Updegrove in a manner that compels him to photograph same-sex weddings or bars him from advertising his refusal to do so. The state cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, which found that a Colorado anti-discrimination law violated a Christian web designer's free speech rights by forcing her to create websites for same-sex marriages.
“Like any other artist, I want to create photography that I believe in. I believe that marriage is meant to be a unique and sacrificial relationship between one man and one woman that points people to Jesus Christ’s sacrificial covenant with the church," wrote Updegrove in a 2020 Washington Post op-ed.
Updegrove's suit was backed by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom. They argued that requiring Updegrove to photograph same-sex weddings would violate his First Amendment rights and artistic freedom. As a wedding photographer, Updegrove claims his work qualifies as personal creative expression protected by the Constitution.
Advocates view the settlement as undercutting protections for LGBTQ people under Virginia's landmark Values Act. The law, enacted in 2020, made Virginia the first Southern state to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public spaces.
Critics contend Attorney General Jason Miyares essentially gutted the Values Act's nondiscrimination safeguards through the settlement. But Miyares asserts he is simply abiding by the 303 Creative precedent on free speech set by the Supreme Court.
Updegrove's case is part of a wave of preemptive lawsuits arguing that anti-discrimination laws infringe on religious liberty and free speech. The plaintiffs claim that without exemptions, these laws coercively compel creative professionals like photographers, bakers, and florists to participate in same-sex weddings against their beliefs.
Defenders characterize the suits as manufactured controversies to undermine civil rights laws, noting they are often filed before any actual denial of services occurs. But after 303 Creative, conservative legal challenges to state nondiscrimination policies may find receptive audiences in lower courts.
The Values Act not only bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but also discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and other protected classes. Violators can face fines up to $100,000.
This settlement represents another setback for LGBTQ protections in Virginia under Republican leadership. Last year, Governor Glenn Youngkin moved to roll back guidelines supporting transgender students in public schools. Critics accused him of violating the Values Act with these actions.
Updegrove has photographed weddings, as well as conservative political events. In his lawsuit, he said his faith compels him to believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The settlement permits Updegrove to continue operating his wedding photography business according to those beliefs.