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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Richard Wagner's picture

Really! what about the "right" for Photographers to not photograph something or someones ceremony that violates the photographers religious beliefs??? ever think of that?

Then don't be a professional photographer.

Richard Wagner's picture

Don't be an idiot you idiot!

I accept your surrender.

Richard Wagner's picture

My surrender is to God only not man :)

And let me guess, you're a member of the Westboro Baptist Church

I actually agree with him, for the record I'm Roman Catholic and can't stand Westboro BC. That said your argument is an interesting one - as the argument itself stands against a person's first amendment right to freedom of religion for those of us in the US including the state of New Mexico.

You're saying I have to give up my religious beliefs to support your actions because I have a business. So it's either have my business or have my faith, tolerance goes both ways. Tolerance does not mean I have to participate in or support something.

It's the intolerance in the cry for tolerance that always makes me laugh

Well no you have a right to practice your religion and can do so as much as you want in your church you however have absolutely No! right to impose your religious beliefs on anyone else.

See your running a business its not a religious institution therefore has nothing to do with your religion or your practice of it. Unless you feel imposing your beliefs on other people is constitutional.

Forcing a business to support someones beliefs is imposing beliefs on others. Gays always want to tell people to stay out of their lives, but want to force others to do what they want. They dont HAVE to use that photographer, and that photographer doesnt HAVE to work for every client. Its not a God-Given right to have a Photographer of your choice to shoot your wedding. same as their arent laws stating you have to be affordable, you have a choice on how to run your business according to established, religious beliefs.

You as a person and your business are two distinctly different entities. You can be just as racist and homophobic as you want but when you created a business you agreed to play by a different set of rules.

And no, you're not being told to "give up" a belief. That is impossible to do because our species lacks telepathic capabilities to enforce such a thing. That phrase is often used by people under the delusion that their beliefs are superior to everyone else and trumps any and all things. You can keep your belief all you want. You're just not allowed to act on it.

If you want to live where religion is the ultimate decider, Iran and Saudi Arabia await you.

See that's actually not true - first I'm neither racist nor homophobic - but thank you for playing. Many businesses focus around their religious beliefs and services, forming a business does not force or require anyone to change their beliefs - welcome to a separation of church and state.

Also I never said my beliefs were superior to anyone's, in fact I have said in every comment here that everyone is entitled to their own.

I like your comment that "You can keep your belief all you want. You're just not allowed to act on it.". If that's the case then why are you allowed to act on yours? Why is yours somehow superior?

It's ridiculously humorous after you said "That phrase is often used by people under the delusion that their beliefs are superior to everyone else and trumps any and all things".

Further I never said religion was the ultimate decider, I said my faith and beliefs are MY decider and while I am not perfect I do try to live to my beliefs. I do not force you to live by them, and as I will not force mine on you the same holds that you have no right to force yours on me.

It's also funny in your ignorance that Iran and Saudi Arabia that just really shows your own personal blind ignorance.

I never said you were racist or homophobic and you know that. I said "You can be as racists or homophobic as you want". It is possible to be 0% racist and 0% homophobic.

Yes many businesses do center their business around their religious beliefs. But when they conflict with the state's rules, too damn bad you comply with the rules. And no, you cannot claim religious discrimination because everyone is held to that standard. It would not matter if you were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The rule applied to you the same.

And how am I ignorant about Iran and SA where religion rules? In Saudia Arabia they have religious courts and religious police that strictly enforce religious laws. They were widely criticized for refusing to allow girls to escape a fire because they were not properly dressed for being outside in the head cover and black robes. Not to mention all other religions are banned there. Iran is designated as a "theocratic republic" by the Central Intelligence Agency.

If I could up-vote this more, I would.

What about the right of restaurants to serve people based on their religious beliefs? What about the right of hotels not to let gay people sleep there based on their religious beliefs? What about the right of discrimination from anyone based on religion?

As the article said, what if the photographers didn't believe in interracial marriage based on their religion? Or what if they said "no, sorry, you're Jewish"? That's the kind of protection that needs to be applied.

Richard Wagner's picture

The government does not makes these laws to created freedom for all. These types of Gov laws are designed to transfer the freedom of choice from one person only to give it to another. Gov can not create freedom , it can only transfer it. We don't need these laws, let the PEOPLE decide what to do about these companies or persons who decided not to serve any particular people "groups". That's the true freedom, when will YOU realize it's up to US not the Gov to make our own personal decisions??? Keep the Gov OUT of our personal choices!!!

Sounds like you're pro-choice. You baby killer!!

Richard Wagner's picture

How in the world did you come up with that notion? lol. Yes I am Christian and I am Pro-Choice...I am also Pro-life as well. I am for peoples rights to make choices that are best for them and their familes. I am also Pro-life and think that abortion is birthed by the devil himself. Just remember, the Abortionist came up with the title "Pro-Choice" as a cover, who wants to be known as a Pro-abortionist??

Lee Whitman's picture

And here's where I throw the "race card." Richard you do realize that if we allowed the average citizenry to decide who was worthy of being a customer, in a restaurant, at a hotel, or when hiring a photographer, etc. that persons of color would be unable to do many things in the south.
That means YOU could be denied basic services all because you appear to
be black or Hispanic. Are you still ok with the society you just suggested?

Didn't think so .

That's what it's currently like to be gay and living in 'merica.

...if we allowed the average citizenry to decide...

...and now you know what's wrong with democracy.

Lee Whitman's picture

It's not perfect, but it's better than the alternative. The "average citizenry" is also why we have a "representative" democracy and not a direct one (our forefathers were rather smart when it came to setting up our government.) It's also why we have the system of checks and balances that we do (3 branches, etc.).

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." --Sir Winston Churchill

Richard Wagner's picture

Sir Winston Churchill??? The British politician lol?? You realize we are the best country in the world right, even over Britian?? and you post a silly quote froma former Brit lol

Bill Gates?? You realize Apple is the top tech company, even over Microsoft?? and you post a silly humanitarian and retired CEO lol

Cats?? The fluffy things lol??? You realize that dogs are the best pets ever, even over Cats??? and you post a silly picture of a cat lol

Richard Wagner's picture

I can no longer respond to your absolute nonsense, you need to learn how to read before you can respond intelligently.

CR-Xs?? The Japanese cars lol ?? You realize that for is the best auto manufacturer in the world right, even over Honda?? and you post a silly comparison to Honda.

Richard Wagner's picture

Leem sounds like a Communist with that kind of ignorant comment.

I think you're jumping back in time on that one - in fact with todays world the public has a much larger voice than they ever have, to assume that places in the south would not serve someone based on race if they could is just laughable and the typical argument you see from a liberal (not saying you are one - just saying that's where you usually hear that argument).

In fact there are businesses all over that can refuse service based on how a person looks, they can refuse it based on the way you are dressed, personal cleanliness, even the fact of having shoes and a shirt on. Shoot there are even businesses that refuse services on given days of the week based on their beliefs (most notably Chick-fil-a and B&H Photo).

Also the act of refusing someone based on their skin is not one that violates any religious system I have ever studied which in itself shows how that argument does not apply.

Now since you wanted to play the race card, there are multiple organizations that exist in the US that are around solely for the benefit of a group of people based on their race. They deny their services to those outside of the race that they focus on, ironically this same group comes out and claims race as the issue.

hypocrisy? Yea just a bit.

Lee Whitman's picture

Yes, a business in the south would NEVER deny patronage to a group of people based upon race.
Oh, wait:

Black Restaurant Patrons Kicked Out After White Woman
Feels 'Threatened'

http://gawker.com/black-restaurant-patrons-kicked-out-after-white-woman-...

The business that you mention that refuse service on certain days of the week only do so because they are CLOSED. That's very different than refusing to serve certain patrons on certain days of the week and it is a straw-man argument.

The race argument was also used by the Mormon church to discriminate up till the 1980's and by southern Colleges (Bob Jones University) till 2001 when they finally lifted the ban on students in interracial marriages. So, maybe you should study more and blog less?

Also, maybe minority groups deny services outside of their mission scope because white people really don't need help when it comes to race equality. When's the last time you were denied service because you looked too straight or too Caucasian?

Do you know why those businesses are closed those days? It's because of their religious beliefs, they made the decision to deny their service.

I never said it would not happen, in fact it does all over to all races in different areas in different ways. The thing about today's world is that it's immediate national response as compared to the small local responses it use to have - to the point that businesses that do that tend to close very quickly - why - because the public simply goes somewhere else and lets them fade away.

And yea because it only happens in the south and only to black people, not that it happened to a white man in NYC who only wanted to use a bathroom in a hotel because of the way he looked. I mean in that case it was only a guy who's been one of the main figures on a national television show for 2 years.

I had a friend in DC openly denied a job because they had to meet affirmative actions requirements, that's discrimination too.

Also that article and incident in itself goes to my point - I never said it would not happen, but when it does it has a much greater backlash in most cases immediately after it happens and the public rightfully ends up holding them accountable for it.

My point is you can't preach one thing while doing another. Things need to change on all sides.

Lee Whitman's picture

Of course I know why those businesses are closed on Sundays and your argument consisting around denial of service is a shoddy one full of holes. They aren't denying service to some patrons or even all patrons, they're closed. They're not open for service so the question is moot.

I realize you're angry. You're living in the only time in history where being a white male doesn't mean a ride on the gravy train. It sucks, but I guess you'll have to compensate by upping your game and working hard. Generation after generation of minorities have done it before you; you'll be just fine.

Also, big city businesses routinely deny the usage of bathrooms to non-patrons. It had NOTHING to do with your race or gender. Please roll the dice and try again.

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