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.


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?


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 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!


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.


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Previous comments

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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."

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.

Jorge Tamez's picture

When did you choose to be straight?

Richard Wagner's picture

You don't have to choose to be straight, it's a natural occurence. You do have to make a choice to violate that natural occurence though.

What? So everyone is born straight but some choose to be gay? But if you're born straight, why would anyone choose to be gay?


Most claim they were born that way. Tell me, at what age were you pondering sexual relations with both men and women, yet ultimately decide to only focus on women?

Being born that way doesn't make it good and normal.

laws have to be made when ignorance still prevails...

Why would they want to shoot with someone like that in the first place? Roscoes Chicken and Waffles denies service to whites sometimes, but you don't see that making it to court.

Hypocritical, bullying, and downright wrong.

Um well you point out that what they are doing is illegal, lawsuits are a valid expression of this if you don't stand up for your rights you soon lose them.

The KKK may be a bit radical, but the reason I used that example is because it's fairly polarizing, like the issue of homosexual marriage. I'm not saying one is right or wrong. I'm saying that you can't force someone to implicitly support the idea by demanding they shoot an event. Freedom goes both ways. The couple shopping for a photographer has the freedom to shop around for someone to provide the service. Why shouldn't the business owner have the same freedom to choose their clients? The free market system that our economy is based on doesn't work without freedom to disagree.

I'm all for freedom, but do you think a restaurant owner should have the freedom to choose what type of people (age/sex/race/religion/etc) are allowed in his restaurant?

There's a fine line between personal freedom and justice/equality. I can argue both ways.

olivier borgognon's picture

Tricky one here. Bars & clubs would be happy to have 16 yr olds come in and drink... law prevents them to do so. that's discriminating somehow too.

We don't sue the rotary for not letting people in, or the mens clubs for not allowing women.

hear me well, i agree with you, but it is a very touchy topic here and I think it is deeper than the discrimination factor.

agree with zach that she could have just said she was busy... point and over, would have solved the issue here.

Good point. I guess the best way to turn down a job is to say that we don't have the time. And not say something like, "I don't shoot Homosexuals/Blacks/Jews/Etc."

Mike Powell's picture

that's right!...."loose lips sink ships" what we say!... look out! big brother is watching.

Martin Melnick's picture

people don't stay 16. That's a law based on brain development and maturity. It's again, not comparable to denying someone service for the color of their skin....

Those are private clubs (not that it has kept people from suing anyway). This is a business open to the public and the law prevents them from discriminating against people based on race and/or sexual orientation.

As for the suggestion of saying she's busy- I think there have been other photographers in this same situation that have gotten themselves in trouble by trying that tactic, i.e., they tell the homosexual couple they're booked, the couple has either the other partner or someone else call in to check on the date as straight couple and then you're into the same issue.

Private Clubs have been free to do that for a while now and have SCOTUS to back them up.

Business can get around it if it is a legitimate business reason like a lingerie store not carrying men's underwear or a suit store not carrying dresses are not gender discrimination unless they refuse to sell a man lingerie or a woman a suit.

Richard Wagner's picture

Yes, and what about those places that places a sign that says "No shirt, no shoes...No service" LOL get'm

That's actually because it's against health code.

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