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

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Richard Wagner's picture

LOL it's not a health code, if that were true....it would be a law. What oes not wearing a shirt or shoes have anything to do with health in an establishment?

It actually puts it more to the idea that it could have been her religious beliefs that drove the decisions - as another point of many religious beliefs is honesty.

It's a matter of tolerance vs conversion.

If this woman were standing in the way of their wedding or ceremony and completely blocking it then I would have an issue. That however is not what happened. She did not speak out against the persons individual decisions or life choices, she simply stated she has no desire to be a part of it.

They aren't. Yet do you see people suing because bars have ladies night? That's also illegal. Apparently if it isn't what you want it's not okay, but if it's what people want it's fine.

olivier borgognon's picture

Off Topic Zach, but about KKK and even though i'm totally against the KKK, stunning essay and work from this photographer.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2013/08/13/anthony_s_karen_a_photojour...

It's the refusal based on the reasoning not the refusal in general that is the issue. You do not have to give a reason to why you do not want to photograph someone and then it is not discrimination. But ASSHAT Elaine Huguenin said I will not photograph a gay couple making is discrimination based on basic human rights. Whether you are a supporter of gay rights or not there are certain rights a person has. If you did not want to shoot the wedding of a bunch of bigots because of moral beliefs, that is not discrimination based on basic rights. Refusing to shoot a wedding based on sex, orientation or race is discrimination.

Thank you. You spelled it out for some of the folks who cannot grasp this basic concept.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

What about ideology? Is that also discrimination?

No one is being discriminated against because of ideology.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

Actually people are every day in one fashion or another. But, I was asking Jacob if he considers that discrimination as per his precious post. The reason I ask this is because ideology, moral beliefs, and religious views all go "hand-in-hand", but out of those three the only truly protected one (by our constitution) is religious beliefs. Which one could presume that the leap could be made to include the other two into govt protected rights by a very good lawyer. Therefore, wouldn't this ladies religious viewpoint be just as protected as the couples (if not even more so) by the laws of our country? By no means am I saying she was correct in her handling of the situation, but I can't see how ones personal right granted by a state can possibly trump another's granted by the constitution.

Her viewpoint is protected. What isn't protected are her actions based on that viewpoint. The right-wing prattle on about how it is a violation of her religious rights but it's not because she's not being singled out because of her religion. If she practiced any brand of Christianity, Islam, Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Santeria, agnosticism or any other religion the outcome would have still been the same.

And one can trump the other when you willingly enter into certain situations. When Elaine went into business she became subject to certain rules and restrictions. She just felt she was personally exempted because of her religion.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

I disagree with you on that part. Looking at recent court decisions for Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, where they used religion as a basis for their operating practices, I am quite sure legal precedence is on her side.

The Hobby Lobby lawsuit is moot considering the 10th Circuit ruled in their favor and the 3rd Circuit conflicts having ruled against another company on the same issue. Not to mention the lawsuit is based on a medical fallacy rather than fact. SCOTUS will propbably grant certriori in this matter due to the inter-circuit . Otherwise the Hobby Lobby decision will only apply in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Kansas and Oklahoma.

I do not know which Chick-Fil-A decision you are referring to as they have been sued quite a bit for religious and sex discrimination (i.e. firing a Muslim employee for refusing to pray to Jesus during training and firing a female manager so "she could be a stay-at-home mom").

But in this case, it is over. Certriori will most likely not be granted if Elaine appeals.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

I guess we will have to wait and see. Either way the decision go's, it will definitely be case law discussed by many talking heads in the future.

Many states allow a company to fire anyone for any reason, and I doubt Chik-Fil-A came out and stated that as a reason, and only the person who was fired gave that as their reasoning which is instantly dismissible because he is not apart of that company.

Chik-Fil-A was denied to open a Chik-Fil-A in Chicago because the mayor didn't agree with the fact that the owner of Chik-Fil-A didn't support gay marriage. The owner expressed his personal views and not a statement of the company, and was denied to operate a business in the city.

Somehow someone who denies business to a same-sex couple is a bigot, but a mayor who denies a company to do business in an entire city isn't a bigot?

No because Corporations aren't people. That being said it does not matter what those mayors said, thought, or did because Chick-Fil-A would have sued them and won because those are not grounds to deny permits, etc.

The employment laws you refer too are known as "At Will" employment laws which means you can quit at any given time for any reason and an employer can terminate your employment for any reason. However, the employer is still held to a higher standard and cannot terminate someone in a discriminatory manner and thus is not applicable in this situation.

Christopher Hoffmann's picture

as per his previous post.. Damn autocorrect.

Richard Wagner's picture

What the hell does being gay have to do with human rights???? that is a really stupid statement.

Because it's discrimination of basic rights. If the photographer said I dont want to shoot the wedding because I dont support interracial marriage would you get the point? It's the same point just different people and far less fabulous.

And what self respecting photographer would turn down a gay wedding? The LGBT community provides more amazing photo opportunities than can be counted.

Richard Wagner's picture

It' obvious by your statement that you know nothing about basic rights or maybe you just favor ignorance. Why is it such a hard thing to understand? maybe because it fits your own idea of feedom, you support taking someone else freedom to choose to appeal to your own willand freedom. Why is it violating someones basic rights when they by their own Conscience chose not to shoot a gay wedding? Yet it's not violating the Photographers basic rights when others want to force them against their will via Gov Law??

Then do not shoot weddings but using it as an excuse is bad. If I said, I do not want to shoot weddings a persons wedding that offered me money because that is (insert race here), then I'd get bitched at and probably sued. She can believe whatever she wants but when you exclude people based on basic, by birth rights, its not right. It's like Mcdonald's saying to you at the drive through, you cannot be served here based on your race.

Vanessa wanted something that Elaine did not wish to provide, and so Vanessa sought to force her way. Elaine did not do anything to force her beliefs on Vanessa. So how is Elaine the bigot here?

Explain how someone this passive, simply saying, "I don't want to be involved in this based on my personal beliefs, but thanks for asking" is a bigot? Is Elaine not allowed to have her own beliefs? Is it so damaging to you personally that you have to call her names and belittle her for her personal beliefs?

Why are you acting with such hatred towards her? Why are you being such a bigot?

Let's look at it another way. There's a law that says that a business cannot discriminate against anyone because of his/her religion/sex/age/sexual orientation. Elaine starts a photography business. Vanessa went to Elaine's business seeking her service. But Elaine said, "I don't want to serve you because of your sexual orientation." Elaine breaks the Anti-Discrimination Law so Vanessa sues to make sure that this unfair practice doesn't happen again. Who's the bigot on this side of the story?

I really don't think there is a clear cut answer. Consider this... laws were originally put in place to guide society and encourage a communally beneficial environment. This country has become so diverse and people have become so intolerant that the law is now used to enforce instead of encourage. The law is NOT perfect, its constantly changing. Therefore it is impossible for the law to serve everyone flawlessly. So, we must rely on much simpler concepts. Treat like you want to be treated. If Elaine explained how her personal views handicapped her ability to perform her job, then maybe Vanessa could see the reality in her situation and not try to make an example of her. Go find another photographer. But if Vanessa can't respect that, what makes her and those who share her viewpoint, exempt from bigotry ? We need to take the time to connect with one another. Stop looking for absolute answers for everything in life. Just like the law, WE are constantly changing.

She did it because she was gay not because she did not want to the wedding. All she had to say was I am not interested but she had to pull her bigoted beliefs into the equation. You make it sound like discrimination is ok.

Richard Wagner's picture

Seriously??? this response was not well thought out now was it? Elane should have said she was booked for that day???? How is she supposed to know everyones sexual orientation before she decides to make the shoot???? should she have asked if it's going to be a same sex ceremony??? That's ridiculous lol!

Easy. Ask for the name of both spouses and refer to them using the gender-specific titles (i.e in this case 'What is the name of your husband-to-be?")

If her decision is based on religious beliefs, lying is probably not the best alternative solution.

Martin Melnick's picture

The difference discussed here is that the KKK is an example of an interest group. Groups of people and ideas can be refused. But when you're talking about people protected under the discrimination act, it is very different. Discriminating against people for their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is not the same thing as discriminating against an interest group like the KKK or a political party event like the Republican National Convention for example. There's no comparison.

Spoken like a true "Christian" Conservative

I 100% support gay marriage, but i also support the choice to turn down any job that I dont want to do. I dont see how you can sue someone for turning down a job based on their personal beliefs. That is silly. You dont have to believe what they believe, but the idea that it is ok to sue a photographer for turning down a job they dont want to do ( No matter what the reason ) is silly. It is their business, their brand, and their choice.

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