Virginia Photographer Permitted to Reject Same-Sex Couples After Lawsuit Settlement

Virginia Photographer Permitted to Reject Same-Sex Couples After Lawsuit Settlement

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.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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A much better argument than yours is that I live in a country where same sex relationships and same sex marriage are not seen as a sin and are both legal by law. You are free to have your beliefs and base them on what the Bible says but you cannot expect all people to live by your moral judgement or claim the Bible holds more weight than any other viewpoint as you seem to suggest in your reply to me.

Obviously you have not read the Bible - God calls no one inferior - Don't know where you came up with that.

I wasn't quoting the Bible. I was quoting a hypothetical bigot. Funny that you should conflate the two.

As if there have never been any bigots refusing service at lunch counters.

My apologies... so much of the conversation has been Bible-oriented - I wasn't aware you switched over to bigots at some point... My bad.

I'm not sure the Bible discusses grill cheese sandwiches but you're more than welcome to look into it if you feel your comment was an intelligent comment

The topic of the article is discrimination against same-sex couples. Tell me the Bible and/or religious attitudes don't have anything to do with it.

I will never understand the logic of these people. If you don't want to work with a particular client, you just say you're unavailable that day.

They shouldn't have to tell a lie.

That is weird. I checked outside, and hell hasn't frozen over. X)

I am delighted that the courts supported the Christian based on their beliefs. I am astonished how “liberal” minded people want everyone to follow their beliefs. I will decline service to anyone that I perceive as toxic. I follow my intuition if someone is going to be unreasonable afterwards on their expectations and then sue me.

I am not interested in buggery but hopefully I will not have it forced on me by people who like buggery.

"I am delighted that the courts supported the Christian based on their beliefs."
Wait until the courts support ME based on MY beliefs. You might not be so delighted, then. Fortunately for you, my right to swing my arm ends at your nose.

You must have the nose of a walrus.

I don't think Brian is going to appreciate your implying that HE has the nose of a walrus.

Ah, well, I don't know how you got that notion from an image that shows only my hands and a portion of my face. In any case, it's not relevant. YOUR right to swing your gorilla arms also stops at another person's nose. And, your right to impose your beliefs stops well short of mandating that others conform to them.

Do you really not understand the principles behind decades of laws concerning public accommodations? For a real-world introduction to the topic, I invite you to live for an extended time in a place where you are an easily identified member of a class of people who are actively and widely discriminated against.

Title II of the Civil Rights Actvdescribes as "public accommodations" services offered from locations that are physically open to the public. On the other hand, the law was passed pre-Internet, and services offered via the Internet could certainly be considered public accommodations in modern times.

Christians don't necessarily mandate anything although there may be times they attempt to - The real mandater is God - I own my business, I decide who I do business with, plain and simple - My statements are based on Biblical beliefs and I will stick by them - The only people they affect are those wanting same-sex images - I can assure you I lose no sleep over my business operations - I don't do portraits and I don't do weddings - I will do same-sex business owners who want images of their business operations as I do believe they have a right to exist in a free country - Jesus did not force anyone to conform - I follow His example - Jesus did discuss repercussions - If you're a non-believer I can only recommend looking into the Bible and what it has to say - You have every right to reject its statements should you choose to - But as everything in life there are always repercussions to our actions - You've been given good advice - I wish you the best of luck in your beliefs.

Someone who has missed the boat shall we say? You start out by bringing up beliefs and you close out by describing a physical action.

Jacques, I love your comments as they show what type of mind you have.

All I'm hearing here is defense of discrimination.

While raving about the ruling, please remember that many of these actions are set-ups to further the culture wars... it was found that the plaintiff in the 303 Creative suite had never been approached to do a same-sex wedding website and in fact had never done a wedding website. The owner was simply worried that she would be "forced" to provide the service under Colorado's public accommodation statues. Beyond that, the person named in the suit as requesting the design service was a straight, married male who never made contact with 303 Creative. It was all set up by the Alliance Defending Freedom which is out of Scottsdale, AZ. So rather than working with local people to address their concerns in the law and get the changes desired, we now have a precedent based on a fake case with fake people and a rush to sensationalized judgement. A judgement that undermines both civil rights and civil protections.

Both-sides-ism is itself disingenuous.

Thanks for providing some details here

I don't know about the US but here that'd be economic suicide. Couples here all have gay friends and religious numbers are on the decline. You advertise that you don't photograph gay couples here and you offend all your straight clients as well. 70% of weddings don't involve a church. So you'd be cutting out those clients as well.

Not ideal for a thriving business in 2023.

Uh, yeah, nobody would ever even discuss it, because gays are all closeted there, the social penalties for non-conformity are extremely heavy, and people never discuss controversial topics.

I lived in Japan for 12 years and spoke the language fluently. You haven't even begun to see below the surface. Your seeming notion that Japan represents an example of tolerant acceptance couldn't be more wrong.

My guess is you haven't been there long, and you're still at the cherry blossoms, kimono and subservient women stage of understanding Japanese culture. Most Westerners start there. If you want a real understanding of the culture, I suggest you read "The Enigma of Japanese Power" by veteran Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen, about the nature of power relationships in Japanese culture, business and politics. Also, watch the films of Juzo Itami ( Americans may be aware of his early "Tampopo" and "A Taxing Woman", but it's his later film "Minbo no Onna" (seemingly unavailable in the U.S.) about the refusal of Japanese law enforcement to protect average citizens from the depredations of organized crime that reveals, through satire and pathos, the dark underside of Japan. This film cut so close to the bone that the Yakuza slashed his face after the movie's release.

Japanese culture studiously refuses to protect the rights of any kinds of minorities, even the disabled. The saying "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" is gospel there and permeates all the institutions. As a foreigner, you're probably not privy to this, but you will eventually run into a wall that clearly demarcates your "outsider" status. For example, it's nearly impossible for non-Japanese to become citizens, or even obtain the U.S. equivalent of "green card" status. Another example: try applying for a credit card. Despite having lived there for many years, having earned a graduate degree from a prestigious Japanese university, being fluent in the language and married to a Japanese woman, and having gainful employment, banks would not even give me a credit card application. Another example: Try to rent an apartment. Housing discrimination against non-Japanese is flagrant and tolerated. Real estate agents routinely turned me away at the front door. The magazines listing apartments for rent used icons to indicate things like "pets welcome". They used to have an icon for "no foreigners". 95% of listings featured this one. Pets were more welcome than foreigners, by a wide margin. Then, at some point, someone in the government must have decided this was a bad look, but rather than enforce housing equality, they got the magazines to switch from the "no foreigners" icon to a "foreigners welcome" icon. The latter could be found almost never.

With the exception of gangsters, Japanese will not assault you for being a minority. They'll slide away from you on a subway seat, they'll smile politely and try to have nothing to do with you, and some will embrace the experience of interacting with a novelty. But, almost none of them will stick up for you. Sticking up means getting hammered down. And, this includes the police. If you are ever in fear for your life from imminent assault, do not count on the police to help you. While I was there, there were numerous instances of regular folks being assaulted and even killed by gangsters while police passively looked on. Law enforcement is intended to keep the sheep in line, not to take on forces of oppression.

The fact that nobody there talks about the rights of people in same-sex relationships is not an indicator of tolerance, it's an indicator of fear.

Some people have integrity and stick to their Christian faith. Integrity, along with shame, honour, courage, honesty and so on have disappeared as common values and so the world is in decay.

Some have the self confidence to question that faith when they disagree with a decision it makes. Those same people can also maintain their moral compass.

Sorry to hear about that in your country - In my country, the USA, my own wife has a gay brother - I would never photograph his marriage should he decide to get married - Then again i don't photograph any weddings whatsoever - He's more than welcome to attend any gathering we have and I actually hang out with the gentleman from time to time even though we're not friends - Where would I fit in in your country? As an aside, my wife's brother openly states he hates when gay people try to force a Christian photographer to photograph a gay wedding - I wonder where he fits in as well in your country.

Don't be sorry. The gay wedding market is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. You choose to take advantage of it or you don't. I made hundreds of thousands of dollars from it. Most of the practicing Christians I know object strongly to the discrimination that religion uses to divide and control. They rely on their faith to make the decisions they see as good ones and don't just follow another human, who wears a collar and a pointy hat blindly if they think they're wrong. Believing in Jesus doesn't mean you have to blindly follow every order the Pope gives. I assume your God gave you the intelligence to choose....

I don't actually think I personally know a wedding photographer who discriminates based on the opinions of a religion even though some of them practice those religions. We even have a subset of the clergy outspoken enough to allow gay weddings in church for those couple who practice religion while being shamed by it. The church tried to stop it but the wider community shut them down. Support here is high, even amoung the devout. We just have less black and white and a lot more grey on subjects like this here.

Personally I do think you should be able to pick and choose your clients based on your own moral code. I do find it hard to see how refusing to shoot based on sexual orientation is any different to discrimination on religion, race or colour. But that's me. I'm not trying to impose that on anyone else. Just be aware your clients also have a code and here well over 80% support gay marriage. It's a brave move to put your business in that space unless you really have a target audience of the 20%.