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

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

Johann MG's picture

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

Johann MG's picture

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.

Johann MG's picture

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.

Matt Blasi's picture

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?

Matt Blasi's picture

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.

Matt Blasi's picture

Actually the instance I was referring to in big city was Jace from Duck Dynasty, who was denied because the guy in the hotel though he was homeless because of his beard. Oh this was in the hotel he was stying in - so he was a patron. You are right in that it was not race or gender, it was simply the way he looked. So um, how is that dice roll?

Second I'm not angry, and I've had to work for everything I have, as did my parents and their parents before them. Not knowing anything about me it can be easy to claim that because I'm white I expect to have it easy. I am where I am in life because I've worked my ass off since I had my first job at the age of 14. Being only the second generation of my family born in this country, my relatives came over with next to nothing, my great grandfather worked coal mines in PA, my grandfathers served one in the marines and one in the army air corps, my father in the air force and every single person in my family was raised to work for what we have.

Your implication otherwise though an attempt to be cute and coy, that actually does make me angry.

Daniel S's picture

Funny how mr. leemwhitman concluded you were angry because you're white.
Ain't racism a sonofabitch?

Richard Wagner's picture

Leem, you are absolutelt incorrect. In todays electronic social population, you have vey little chance at survival in business if you do "discriminate" against a race. We don't need government intervention any longer in this aspect. Besides, your inclusion of Gay relationships as a race is in error. If someone does not want to serve be because they do not like my race or religious belief, I will smile and pray for them, then find another place that will accommodate my needs.

Richard Wagner's picture

Dumbest thing I have ever heard lol

Matt Blasi's picture

Very well said!

dov's picture

Your right lets take all the bigots and types like yourself put them in camps and or just discriminate against them because its just our choice.

Alan Lee Beddingfield's picture

Hotels used to not allow two people of opposite sex with different last names to get a hotel room together. The ONLY reason that changed is because society would rather fork out millions in welfare and employ psychologists to help people who are depressed from failed relationship issues, than tell someone "Hey, thats wrong, im not going to help you do it"

Robertt1's picture

Gay sex is something of utmost importance for humanity, so any other principles and beliefs must be subordinated to it.

Richard Wagner's picture

Gay sex is un-natural as it is a perversion of morality. But that is straying off the subject at hand. :)

Lee Whitman's picture

Then why is it found in the animal kindgom and throughout human history?

Alan Lee Beddingfield's picture

good excuse.....murder is also throughout history...so that must make it right!

Lee Whitman's picture

You're right! God even commands that we do it to heathens. Where should we start?!

/Sarcasm off.

Consensual sex between two adults does not equivocate to murder and is logical leap that would make even Sarah Palin gasp. Please try again.

Alan Lee Beddingfield's picture

The bible doesnt say to kill heathens. if it did then it would say to kill everyone. Because everyone is born a sinner, and everyone happens to sin from time to time. So why would you just lie and say that God commands us to kill heathens?
***thats odd**

God says there are consequences for our actions...good and bad. Murderers, consquence is to pay with your own life, etc etc. But thats only a part of a justice system... non of that will condemn our souls. God still provides a way that event though we must pay a earthly consequence for our sins, crimes etc. We can still be set free in Christ and enter heaven if we ask for forgiveness with an honest heart.
And i simply was replying with the logic you used...saying "its in history, so it must be ok"... When using excuses for things, its best to use logical ones. Ill-Logical ones tend to have flaws that leave whatever point, true or untrue, missed.

Next Please!

Richard Wagner's picture

Are you seriously asking that question??? LOL. Ummmm....those are wild animals not Humans who know wright from wrong. Animals also eat each other, lick each other clean, not to mention lick their own genitals clean. Sooo...there's your answer Sherlock lol.

dov's picture

Well no but thanks for dumping the obvious turd in the conversation or more to the point this is one small sound bite o the larger discrimination against people that your touting.

Johann MG's picture

:(

Richard Wagner's picture

What's wrong Johann??

Johann MG's picture

That I can only downvote your response once...

Richard Wagner's picture

So you are one of those Liberals nut jobs that wants to vote more than once?? lol

Mansgame's picture

Pick a business that doesn't deal with any customers.

Richard Wagner's picture

What in the world are you asking lol??

dov's picture

No such right exists, Thank you for playing have a nice day.

Humorously if the photographer advertised themselves as ONLY photographing male female wedding you would actually have a point other than the one atop your head.

But sadly they didn't, so they lost in court, so sad.
NOT!!!!

Richard Wagner's picture

You need to learn to read what someone typed NOT what YOU think that was typed. This is why I typed "right" in quotation marks to signify sarcasm. By the way, I see you are opposed to the right to choose for yourself for what ever you see fit forYOU and not fit for someone else's belief,ha?

messenger's picture

Proud of "your" state for trampling on the rights of others' consciences? Yeah go ahead be proud and flaming. Gross.

Steven Lawrence's picture

your answer is why we need these laws... let it go buddy... we are not all the same. Tell your god that also.

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!!!

dov's picture

Ahh the trollbot has run out of things to say and is regurgitating the script.

Matt Blasi's picture

Actually the whole discussion here shows the evidence on both sides - and the misuse of the word tolerate is what drives this whole debacle.

You are right Steven we are not all the same, this is why there are hundreds of different religions even here in the US all with shared and differing beliefs. All are welcoming, but what they say is that if you come to me to not ask me to change for you - as you are the one coming to me.

If a business or individual chooses not to do business with someone else because the act violates their belief who are you to tell them what they should believe or force them to act against that religious belief.

Alternatively I support that they have no right to tell you that you cannot do something based on your belief.

This is where both sides need to understand the difference between forcing your own beliefs on someone/some group as compared to tolerating the beliefs of someone/some group.

gretsch59's picture

Equal rights for everyone, as long as they hold beliefs that are the same as yours.

Zach Sutton's picture

Comparing same sex marriage with the KKK is a bit radical, don't you think? Also, the members of the KKK aren't exactly the type that wants to be photographed, after all...they wear hoods to hide their identity

Bert McLendon's picture

She wasn't comparing same sex marriage to the KKK Zach, she was making the comparison of services provided to each and it's a very valid point.

I'm all for equal rights and I would gladly shoot a same sex wedding, but I don't think that the couple has good taste in suing a photographer because they don't share their same views.

How can you encourage someone to share/tolerate/accept/believe in your views when you sue someone on the basis of you not liking THEIR views? It's just hypocritical imo.

Tommy S's picture

What if some photographers don't shoot blacks because they believe that blacks are inferior, or because their religion prohibits them from interacting with blacks? Should a photography business have the right to discriminate against blacks? If so, why can't a restaurant business refuse to serve blacks?

It's no different. It's still discrimination and it's still illegal here in the U.S.

Bert McLendon's picture

Don't get me wrong I see your point, I just don't think it's exactly the same as your example, and your example is a very valid argument. I think there is a difference in not serving someone because I think they are inferior and not serving someone because they don't fit my style/brand. Imagine being forced to shoot weddings that you don't want to shoot. Say they shot this wedding and before they know it they are getting bombarded because the LBGT community is trying to book them left and right? Are they forced to take these jobs?

What are we to do if someone sues us because our prices are discriminating against the poor? Forced to shoot a wedding for $250?

Look at that restaurant (In NY I believe, I could be wrong) that decided to not allow kids under 10 to eat at their restaurants after like 6 o'clock. Can they be sued for not letting children in? I hope not. It's brand protection and client targeting.

It's a very touchy subject, but I'm definitely enjoying reading everyone else's take on this subject.

Tommy S's picture

Definitely a hard one. On one hand, I pick and choose what jobs to take or who to shoot. But on the other hand, I can empathized with being rejected for my religious view/sexual orientation/race/sex/age/etc from a public business.

TA's picture

Very well said. We have to draw the line somewhere. I thought people came to this country to live freely...

William J. Denson III's picture

I agree with your sentiment, but it just has to be handled the same way across the board just like in corporate hiring decisions. "We are unavailable to shoot you that day" vs "we are unavailable to shoot you that day because you're gay."

Legally, the restaurant is safe if they say "no children after 6." It's if they got specific that they would be in trouble. "No black children after 6." No, no. That is wrong and wouldn't stand.

dov's picture

See now thats a straw man argument, many restaurants ban kids for many reason from the fact they may be an adult environment to just the style of restaurant or the ambiance they want to produce. its just not the same thing

Robert Allen Payne's picture

Wait. So you think refusing to serve a poor person is the same thing as being willing to serve the poor person, but they can't pay? That's not the same at all. In the first scenario, you refuse to work with them. In the second, you are willing to work with them - they just can't pay your fees. I'd love a Bently and the dealer would love to sell me one. But I can't afford it. That's not the dealers fault and does not expose him to any liability. But if i did have the money, but they refused to sell me one when he found out I was gay, well that's discrimination. And it's not legal. It shouldn't be legal. And hiding behind religious principles doesn't make it any less bigoted or ignorant. That even applies to GLBT allies who say, "but I can see why someone should be able to turn away a gay, even though I'd never do it myself." That's like saying, "I love [enter race here] people, but I can understand why bubba thinks it's ok to be a slave owner, although I'd never do it." Religion determines your relationship with God. Laws determine your relationship to other people. You may think God determines your relationship to other people, but until he shows up and gives us the good word in person, face to face, then "Ceasar's" laws apply to everyone - even the "godly."

TA's picture

I'm so tired of people comparing race to sexual orientation. You can't be sexually oriented if you don't have a race.

Richard Wagner's picture

Well for one, that is discrimination against someone race, this story is about people who had made a choice of action.

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