Court Rules Against New Mexico Wedding Photographer for Same-Sex Discrimination

Court Rules Against New Mexico Wedding Photographer for Same-Sex Discrimination

Yesterday, wedding photographer Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography, LLC was ruled against by the New Mexico Supreme Court stating that she cannot discriminate against same-sex couples. This is a direct result of Vanessa Willock of Albuquerque filling a complaint on December 20, 2006  against Elaine. After inquiring to Elaine about photography for her September 21, 2006 wedding day, Vanessa received an email response back for her same-sex wedding that she was not what she expected.

Vanessa's initial response email inquiring about her wedding day, she received the following email back from Elaine.

"Hello Vanessa,

As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singer's portfolios.

-Elaine-"

Unsure if Elaine was saying that she does not provide same-sex wedding photography, she sent a response back.

"Hi Elaine,

Thanks for your response below of September 21, 2006. I'm a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response. Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?

Thanks, 
Vanessa"

Elaine later responded,

"Hello Vanessa,

Sorry if our last response was a confusing one. Yes, you are connect in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day.

-Elaine"

Elaine claimed to have denied the event due to her religious beliefs. But then, Vanessa had her then fiancée, Misti Collinsworth, contact Elaine and not mention it was a same-sex commitment ceremony.  She received a more than welcoming response back.

"Hello Misty,

Thanks so much for contacting us. I would definitely [sic] be willing to travel to Ruidoso for your wedding. I have attached some information that should be helpful as far as prices and packages. There is also another attachment concerning "print credits" - it explains what online proofing is, because it's something that is a bit newer and not everyone may know what it is yet. Hopefully these items will help you sort some things out. Also, I would love to meet up with you sometime, if you are interested, to show you more of my recent book, along with an example of the "coffee table book" that included in all of our packages. My place of choice is Satellite... Good luck with your planning, and I hope to talk with you soon!

-Elaine"

The initial complaint was investigated by the state's Human Rights Commission, in which they deemed the decision discriminatory. That decision was then upheld in June of 2012 by the New Mexico Court of Appeals. After that, it was appealed again by Elane Photography to the state supreme court claiming photography was an "expressive" medium therefor protection under the First Amendment was claimed. The ACLU stated on their website "that taking photographs for hire is a commercial service subject to commercial regulation.  A commercial business cannot solicit customers from the general public to buy its services as a photographer for hire and then claim that taking those photographs is a form of its own autonomous expressive activity."

After appeal after appeal by Elaine, The New Mexico Court of Appeals finally concluded that "a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."

Although this was only a commitment ceremony, same-sex marriage was not legal at the time of the inquiry, nor at any time during the initial decisions. Santa Fe started issuing same-sex marraige licenses on April 24, 2013. The final decision in the case came yesterday, which also happens to be the same day that the same-sex marraiges will now be issued marraige licenses in Doña Ana County. The county clerk, Lynn Ellins, expressed "After careful review of New Mexico's laws it is clear that the state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act." Upon searching for any websites still linked to a possible business for Elane Photography a sister website was started by Tom Alciere in response to the trial.

[via TOWLEROAD]

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294 Comments

Zach Sutton's picture

Pretty proud of my state for this. Equal Rights for all :-)

It didn't take long to move from reaching for equality to pressing for superiority. Any disagreement with the LGBT viewpoint is labelled as hate speech and must be silenced. Anyone who won't agree to be involved/support LGBT events must be sued for discrimination. The "=" symbols for gay marriage that popped up earlier this year should have been ">".

That's a bit exaggerated, no? It's a plea not to be treated like outliers and shunned. That being said, I get really upset when I don't get to pick my clients.

No one said you can't pick your clients. You just cant deny them for discriminatory reasons as the photographer in this case did.

So you'd prefer they have refused to take the job but lied ab out the reason? How is that better for anyone?

You can't honestly say a photographer should be allowed to pick her clients while you say they can't be allowed to pick who won't be their clients. That's intellectual dishonesty.

Well unless I am a Betazoid I would never know I was being lied to. Given that I presume the best in people until proven otherwise. And I never said it was better. It was just an option this woman had.

Why is discrimination such a hard concept for people to grasp? The law states you cannot discriminate against people based on certain, and often immutable, characteristics. In the jurisdiction Elaine Photography falls under one of those defined immutable characteristics is sexual orientation. Everything else is irrelevant.

No one is denying the existence of black letter law. That's a pretty lame way to argue the merits of a law. "It's the law so it's a good law." Do you accept and respect state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage too?

It's not that I can't grasp or understand your position, or the way the laws work, I maintain that they do more harm than good and are inconsistent with the protection of individual liberties and property rights.

Frankly, I would much rather know who the bigots are so I know who not to give my business to. If you want to line the pockets of people like Elane by forcing them do to business with you, that makes you pretty shortsighted by my estimation.

I prefer them to be open too. The problem is you cannot have those anti-discrimination laws and have open bigots. It's a trade-off until one of them does something stupid like Elaine did. But it is a risk that we have to take. Because while it may seem inane in this situation, that law moves further up the chain and would apply to something like if I ended up in the ER and the doctor was a bigot and wanted to deny me treatment because of his reaction formation... er I mean bigotry.

Or the bigot that takes someone to court because they don't have the same opinion as them.

Ok, now you're just trolling with that one.

Actually your comparison to the ER is jumping, because there are already separate laws that prevent that from happening in any situation. At the end of the day I feel any business should have the right to choose who it does and does not do business with.

That business could make good or bad decisions, and those decisions will determine if the business will thrive or close down. In this day and age of social media it is even more crucial. Look at how quickly national businesses and chains come under fire from LGBT, at the end of the day the community decides which business they will believe in and go to.

No, the ER thing is quite apt. Especially in light of the recent spat of "conscientious objector" laws Republicans are trying to ram through based on homophobia and misogyny.

Again, if you can't play by the rules, get out of the sandbox.

Wow really, have you actually read any of it - yea it's crap and won't ever get through. It's just a headline talking piece that hasn't even been a headline talking piece for years. Actually it's comical that you brought it up. Further there are conscientious objector bills that get present by both republicans and democrats on a very regular basis.

Finally the Republicans haven't rammed through any legislation in more than 8 years. In fact the last part is that even if it were to some how magically get passed, had you even read what they were trying to pass, it would not last a week - why - because the supreme court would strike it down faster than any vote to approve it.

State legislatures are. Mine was one of them trying to do it.

And again, don't like the rules? Don't play in the sandbox.

Except if I choose not to play with you in your sandbox you cry that it's discrimination, if I create my own sandbox you cry because while I can't play in yours you should get to play in mine.

And yes some states are - it's ignorant - and they won't last either [if they even get through - individuals have tried it for decades and always failed]. Why, because the public won't stand for it.

Funny thing though, the people who think the laws will be abused the way they are assuming really know nothing about the faith and religious beliefs because those beliefs say to help other, there is no nothing regarding help others who only believe what you believe.

I won't cry if you go play in the sandbox in your backyard. Again, that's your right. You can do photos for friends and family, do them for your church and they can even give you some money. But once you show up on the state's radar, the game changes and you play by their rules.

Awe gee thanks, but thankfully that also still depends on which judge you get, and what state you live in. What it does show is that for people to not be persecuted for their beliefs and not to someone else's beliefs forced down their throat they are instead forced to lie.

I'm going to guess you're homosexual based on your handle, so let me ask you this - what makes your rights to practice your sexuality in your home rate higher than my rights to practice my religion.

See this is the thing, you've spent all your posts telling me that if I want to practice and live by my religious beliefs that I should go somewhere else or stay in my home or my church yet you can practice your beliefs wherever you please. This is what you've been saying to me I re-read them all before writing this.

Better yet I've been saying since the beginning you can feel free to practice your beliefs wherever you please, and that I based on our wonderful constitution can practice mine. You don't seem to like that, because you told me to stay in my home (sorry my sandbox) to do it.

Now - lets look at who is really the intolerant between the two of us. Who is telling who how to live their life?

In any case, every state has different rules with some still respecting the right to religious freedom and the tolerance and coexistence of everyone. I've never been one for New Mexico with exception to driving through it to get to Arizona so tell you what you keep your hypocritical views out there.

You can practice your beliefs in general. However, as I have stated numerous times, you can practice them. You cannot, however, claim discrimination based on those beliefs and act like they trump all. You have a very biased view of freedom of religion that it is freedom of your religion only. But it doesn't work that way. Freedom of Religion is also Freedom From Religion. And Bigotry wrapped in Religion is still Bigotry.

Comparing homosexuality to religion is idiotic. You choose your religion. I did not choose to be gay.

No see I never said freedom for my religion only, or that my beliefs trump all, never once have I said that, never once have I implied it. In fact my point has been freedom for religions and for sexuality. what I have said from the beginning is my entitlement to my beliefs and you to yours equally. You've consistently told me that I can only practice mine in private - your words being my home, church and of course my sandbox. I never said you had to believe what I believe, nor do I stand in any way to prevent yours. Thank you for resorting to trying to say it openly even though if you read the discussion you'll find you're wrong.

On the subject of the article this woman here didn't force her beliefs on someone, she was taken to court for not sacrificing hers. How did she impose her beliefs on them? How does her choosing not to work for them impose her beliefs on them? Did she somehow try to prevent them from having their ceremony? She did not set out to hurt them, she simply chose to not work with them because she did not believe as they believe.

On the other hand their reaction was to turn around and intentionally set out to hurt her. Even after openly saying why she chose not to work with them and wishing them well they felt the need to lie in a second email so that they could for whatever reason further document her beliefs so they could sue her.

One side in this scenario set out to hurt no one, was open, honest and did not try to for their beliefs on the other. The other side lied, was vindictive and set out solely to punish. I'm sorry but I don't see where that helps ANYONE.

You're right bigotry wrapped in religion is still bigotry, just as bigotry wrapped in self righteousness is still bigotry.

Also, just so that you know the definition of the word:
Bigotry: intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.

You are the one who is being intolerant, yet to hide it you call me a bigot instead. Pointing the finger saying no look over there it's him. Tolerance does not mean I must agree with your views, nor do you have to agree with mine - it means accepting them - coexisting with them - without forcing them on the other.

I love that this is always where it goes. I have no issues with anyones sexuality, I don't believe it to be a matter of being born that way however if you have scientific evidence I'd love to see that. I view it as a choice, and that's fine as it's yours to make for you and no one else's and if it makes you happy then wonderful.

You however need to understand that tolerance and equality to truly be tolerance and equality has to be your respect for my way of life combined equally with my respect for yours. Neither of us has to be happy with the others choices, but neither of us has the right to force change on the other.

You've continuously told me in your replies that I have to hide my beliefs when I am in the outside world, telling me I must keep it in my church, my home and my sandbox - that's intolerance and to hide it by calling me intolerant is not only idiotic but ignorant.

It's people like you on both sides [LBGT & RELIGIOUS] that make it so hard for the groups coexist. This is what I've continuously said.

I've studied many religions, in fact I find the arguments between religions laughable in some cases as there are so many similarities and connections between the main 3 [Muslim/Christianity/Judaism] all while they constantly stand against each other. It's funny as I write this I think about my friends, I have Jewish and Muslim friends, and just as I don't judge or try to change them nor do they judge or try to change me. I do not ask them to do things that would go against their beliefs and they do not ask things of me that would go against mine. That's tolerance, that's coexistence. Get on that train man, join us in that sandbox.

She cited her religion as the reason for denial of service. That by itself is her imposing her religious beliefs. And they did not intentionally set out to harm her. They just confirmed she was discriminating against them for their sexual orientation and thus sought legal remedy. This is the inexorable conclusion no matter how you dress it up.

And no tolerance doesn't mean you have to agree with my views. Just as I do not have to agree with yours. Again, there is no way to enforce this because we are not a telepathic species.

And please quit putting words in my mouth. When I call you a bigot, I will say "You're a bigot". You also keep generalizing when I specifically placed the confines of the "keep it in your sandbox" when it came to discrimination citing your religion as faith in terms of operating your business knowing full well that to do so is against the law. But you keep dancing around that.

And no, it is not a choice. No one wakes up one morning and says "You know what? I feel like becoming a member of the most vocally hated minority in the world. I want to run the risk of being evicted or fired if other people find out. I think the sex is worth the chance of being beaten, shot, stabbed, crucified, set on fire or run over until my liver is severed in half." Sarcasm aside, homosexuality has been documented in over 1,500 animal species. One of my professors in college actually told us how to produce homosexual rats.

As for your "I have friends" argument it still does not hold water because that is in the confines of a personal relationship. This is a business relationship.

It's late so I'm going to try and keep this short.

Yes she cited religion as the reason that however I do not see as forcing her beliefs on the couple. She was certainly not the only option in town, she was not preventing their ceremony, she was simply choosing to have nothing to do with it. I'm sorry but I see it as a huge stretch to say that this is her forcing her beliefs. She was respectful to them, honest, and kind to them.

Now did they have a right to be upset, sure, absolutely, regardless of the reason rejection is rejection and it always sucks. Even more so when it's for something you are personally very passionate about.

With that said, their first direct move after already having confirmation was to get more proof after the photographer had openly admitted her reasoning. This was not needed, not even to go to court since they already had a plain text explanation. So why be deceptive to get that? Also why is the legal path the first path? I'm sorry what ever happened to talking.

I get it they were hurt, rightfully so, but why not try to talk to the woman, maybe see what specifically she is against. It could have been something that could have been worked around. We'll never know because the first recourse was to pile on a little more evidence and then sue her for whatever they could get. I'm sorry I see this as vindictive and counter productive. That said, if they donate the money to some cause I'll be glad to apologize for seeing it the way I do.

As to the things you've said and wether they were directed toward me or not. You have to understand my conclusions when I read these statements of yours because you precede them with a lot of direction straight at me (at least that's how I read the word - you) and then follow it with a vague statement making the implications. Now if this is not how you meant it I apologize however I read it this way in part because I learned this technique of creative writing in school, it's purpose being to make the implication while still being able to deny direct intent. Again if this is not how you meant it to be perceived I apologize however I would recommend then that you be a little more specific in your statements, as every sentence leading to your open and universal statements points to me directly.

Also while I understand your sarcasm, realize first that homosexuals are unfortunately not going through anything other groups have not been through at some point in history. It's bad and it sucks that it's happening and it's surely to happen again. In part because people cant stand change or difference but also because both sides will always try to impose themselves as the right instead of trying to come together as one.

I'm also not dancing around the idea that you're statements on the sandbox revolve around the operating of a business and the idea that it's illegal. That actually depends heavily on where you live and what a judge says as well as how you actively run your business. It does run the fine line of the first amendment and while a corporation would have a near impossible time making that argument a sole proprietorship has much stronger ground. Put short, it's not illegal everywhere or in every situation, this case even outlined the situation in which it is legal in New Mexico creating precedence based on it - honestly not a good thing.

As for the statement about my friends, I'm sorry you took that as an argument it was not meant as one. It was simply meant to illustrate that people can share beliefs and make their own personal decisions based on their beliefs without forcing them on the others. While yes these are friends several began as business relationships and co-workers and grew into friendships. Of course that was in itself not because we were forced to have it one way or the other but instead because we were all open and accepting of each other and grew to understand each other.

If one them were to choose not to participate in something with the rest of us based on his/her religious beliefs, that is not forcing those beliefs on us, it leaves us with choices and things go where they go based on the situation. It's us coming together and accepting that not everyone is going to agree, that not everyone is going to want to participate or be a part of something - and instead of running to have the court tell them that my way is right and theirs is wrong - we accept that we have these differences and move on in spite of them.

Sorry that ended up going long after all. Anyway it's been a good conversation, I think at this point it's just going to begin to circle as I'm not really sure what else I can say. Good night ;-)

How is it a discrimination if any service provider says: Oh, I'm sorry, it is our fault that we did not communicate this, we shoot traditional weddings etc. We can recomend another photographer if you would like to. It is at their discretion to do what they do to earn their living and no gay, scientologist or any other has the right to challenge that.

Should I sue someone if or rather when I get kicked out of a gay bar or a night club on ladies night or something like that? Many people who are or were surpresed in any way look and find discrimination even where there is none.

Because she denied service based on the sexual orientation of the potential client which is illegal in MN and will continue to be so.

I get that the discrimination is bad and not allowed and illegal etc.
But first of all... This isn't a state company, this is a private company who deals with photography. I would guess that they do have the right to choose their clients. She didn't say she hates gays, they shouldn't marry or anything. She said we have a narrower field of weddings we do and we can not help you with your wedding. An apology and a suggestion of another photographer and it should have been all fine, but I hate when people who have been discriminated in the past keep making things up even now when something isn't going their way.

What about the photographers who shoot only jewish weddings? Shall we go sue them all? What about the doctors who only treat cancer, but not bone fractures? Let's sue them! What about doctors giving prescriptions to patients based on their race (since some are better for some - read it somewhere)? You can't look for hate and discrimination everywhere? What about the prostate medicine? Let people work in their field they feel they have specialised and find someone who either has a wider field or does only that.

Very few persons on high positions will actually come out that they are gay in public. Why? Because they have to think about the image of the company, of the political party etc. Why can't the photographer keep the image that they think or know their regular clients would like to have?

I'm really not against providing any kind of service to gays or anyone, but I hate this because this couple had from the start bad intentions and lured and entraped this woman in saying that so, even if she was very clear in the first place too and very helpful and polite. I don't think they have actually deserved this.

There are so many ridiculous things in that statement to respond to. Let me just hit on some.

You cannot deny service based on discrimination. The photographer could have said she was booked, or her camera was broken, or any number of reasons why she was unavailable to shoot the wedding. In that case the potential customers would have had to prove that there was a pattern if they wanted to pursue it. People sometimes do that in order to protect the rights of others... In this case though the business was foolish enough to clearly say that they were withholding service based on discrimination. That's a no brainer.

You would not be allowed to be a business that only handles Jewish weddings. Just like you could not be a golf club that only admits white people.

Very few people in high places come out as gay because of bigotry. I'm not sure what other point you are attempting to make other than bigotry is alive and well.

I also want to address the capitalism arguments others are making above. America is not a completely free market economy. That's by design. The people of this country have decided that it's in the greater good to make laws that shape the market in certain ways. We have a minimum wage, we have protections against things like insider trading, we have all kinds of protections built into the system. One of those protections is against discrimination. You cannot refuse to serve black people and you cannot refuse to serve people based on other forms of discrimination. This is not a complex concept.

Written on a phone, please excuse any mistakes.

Wait. So what you're saying is, by asking for equal treatment under the law, this couple is pressing for superiority? How does that make sense?

Enjoy extinction.

Yeahhhh, don't think it'll come to that. Anyways BostonU says http://www.bu.edu/today/2013/gay-parents-as-good-as-straight-ones/

Well no! If the Photographer had simply said they were booked or taking a day off then this wouldn't be an issue even, if they did so to deny the client for the personal reasons of not wanting to be a part of a same sex wedding. At issue is they were specifically told they were being discriminated against for having a same sex wedding, which is illegal and really stupid.

What I find not very amazing but sad are people who scream to the skies how their religious beliefs are being trampled on while specifically targeting LGBT, women's healthcare rights and well anyone they hate while ignoring how they are unfairly forcing their religious beliefs down peoples throats.

Your second paragraph really goes both ways, as I have said there are people on both sides (even you by your comments) who seem to think tolerance means you have to tolerate me but not the other way around. That's what the act of taking her to court was all about, it was about forcing this couples beliefs down the throat of the photographer.

Tolerance and equality are possible, however when you go as far in either scenario as to say you cannot do this because of my beliefs that's where the line needs to be drawn.

No person should be forced to act against their beliefs or have someone else's beliefs forced on them, this is the basis of the first amendment and the need for a separation of church and state. This holds for personal beliefs as well as religious ones, you don't have any right to force your personal beliefs down my throat just as I have no right to force my religious ones down yours.

I have no issue with gay marriage or gay couples, and feel they should have the same rights as anyone else. There is one basis for marriage at the level of government acknowledging it and providing those benefits as deserved and guaranteed. Varying religions have a second level to it, which is their spiritual side of marriage, based on their beliefs, faith and foundation. Does the church need to recognize a marriage - no - so who cares if they don't? Further does this mean I am open to participating in one, no.

Should a person have a right to decline to provide you services because it violates or goes against their moral or religious beliefs, yes.

Is declining work because it goes against my beliefs forcing you to live by my beliefs - NO - it's not forcing you to do anything, you are free to do as you please. You are not free to force me into it.

Does that person have a right to stand in your way or otherwise try to prevent you from participating in something that is based on your beliefs, no.

It needs to be recognized that both sides are going about this wrong - instead of trying to coexist and live in tolerance, they BOTH insist on forcing their beliefs on the other while crying foul that the other is doing the same to them. When both sides are equally at fault and pushing in the same way with equal force there can be no progress. This is why every argument the LGBT makes can be countered with the same argument (and often is) by religious organizations and vice-versa.

This is the issue that revolves around all issues - race, sex, sexual orientation, religion - everyone want's theirs to be the only way.

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