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

The Keystone pipeline (and the oil industry overall) is not a legally protected minority. It's not even a human being. However, in many states (and perhaps someday, on a Federal level) sexual orientation *is* a legally protected class. Meaning that if you are a wedding photographer, you should photograph weddings. You can say "I don't photograph *outdoor* weddings," or "I don't photograph weddings outside a specific geographic area," or "I don't photograph brides who wear white," (good luck with that one). You could even discriminate against Grooms Named Fred (because people named "Fred" are not a legally protected minority).

But businesses can't discriminate on the basis of sex, age, race, religion, or (in some states) sexual orientation. We don't do that, in the United States. For more information, Google "Civil Rights Movement".

On a personal note...if ones' religion advocates bigotry, I think it would be wise (and ethically imperative) to reconsider that religion.

I'm sorry but you've taken my statements out of context and fail to answer any one of them. I am speaking specifically to the point, can the government force someone to provide a service that violates their conscience? Can it require a Muslim to shoot people eating pork? Can it require a Jew to shoot a Christmas celebration?

Yes, because the Muslim don't have to eat pork. Again, yes, because the Jew don't have to take communion. In both cases, these pros just will have to take photos and they wouldn't do anything against their respective religion. On the contrary, the Muslim would be doing a discrimination in the case that they don't take the job because his client is catolic or the jew because her client his christian. Actually it's so simple; you can't discriminate people on the basics of sex, religion, age, race and sexual orientation, and no matter which are your religious, political or social belief, because to take a event's photos don't violate these belief. The religion of Elane forbid her to married with a same person sex, not to take photos of another two people. I think this is just a clear case of prejudice, as simple as that. If an atheistic photographer, don't take the job in a hypothetical Elane's wedding because she's catholic, adventist or whatever her faith be, then that photograph would be committing the same mistake.
Ah, and sorry for my english, i did my best...

No problem, your English was great. I think you do have a good point and I agree with a lot of what you said. From my understanding it doesn't seem as if she was being intentionally bigoted but rather that she felt that by photographing the ceremony she was approving of it, which isn't the case.

When somebody tell me that he don't do something because it goes against his belief , i'm sorry but i can't avoid to think in prejudice immediately. And if that fact goes on your private live and you wan't to meet that friend of your sister because her sex orientation, or his religious belief, doesn't matter, in your private life you do what you want (always within the law, eh ;) ) and you can tell your sister all that you consider opportune...But not in business...In my opinion if you can't separate, and left behind the politics, the religion (even in some cases, the sports ;)...), you shouldn't go in business. But, hey, that's a personal thought, which allowed me to avoid problems. Now, i don't stay in business anymore, i sold out my business and go to part time job, less problems, less stress, more time for family and myself...and don't have to fight with clients that maybe they could sue you...;).

"i'm sorry but i can't avoid to think in prejudice immediately"
I'm sorry but maybe you should change, instead of trying to force others to change.

For some people religion is not a hobby, a political conviction or a sport, its a set of principles you choose to live by.

Well, tell me where i said that i force somebody to change. Maybe you should read more carefully. However i agree with you that religion isn't a hobby, but those principles must respect the rights of other people, and unfortunately there are many situations along the humanity history where these principles that you mention were missing, and even in this days you can see this prejudice in persons that call themselves religious human beings, just turn on the tv. By the way, has a belief isn't a religion patrimony. I haven't any issue against religion, my family are christian, i was baptized even, but i truly think that ours rights like human beings must be ahead from ours religious belief, because what make us equal is our humanity, not our respective belief, and that allow us to be citizens with equal rights, otherwise a religious person will be above from another that isn't, and that's something that are happening today in some countries.
So, you choose a set of principles to live by, but never at the expense of mine. Best regards from Spain.

From what I can tell the issue is really that the photographer specifically said she wouldn't shoot it due to the couple being same-sex. She could have given any reason why she couldn't shoot it, as long as the reason wasn't based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. The plaintiff would then be burdened to prove that the photographer was actually discriminating based on sex, and without the direct statement of the photographer, that would be difficult to prove in court. Discrimination happens all the time, you just can't state your reasons for discriminating against someone if you're discriminating based on one or more of the legally defined reasons. Also, this suit was not to "force" someone to photograph a wedding, it was to prevent Elane Photography from engaging in unlawful discriminatory practices, and only sought to recoup legal fees, nothing else. Again, all this probably could have been avoided by simply giving any other excuse as to why you can't photograph an event. Additionally looking at the court document, Elane Photography apparently had an unwritten policy of refusing to work on anything that was against their religious beliefs, which was the basis of their argument, which would have probably better stood up in court had it actually been a clearly stated written policy.

Actually it's so simple; you can't discriminate people on the basics of sex, religion, age, race and sexual orientation, and no matter which are your religious, political or social belief, because to take a event's photos don't violate these belief. The religion of Elane forbid her to married with a same person sex or marry them, not to take photos of another two people. I think this is just a clear case of prejudice, as simple as that. If an atheistic photographer don't take the job in a hypothetical Elane's wedding because she's catholic, adventist or whatever her faith be, then that photograph would be committing the same mistake.

What an interesting topic with a lot of good points on each side. I have to ask a question though. I might be ignorant on the details, but I have to ask...

If I, a white man, applied for a scholarship from the NAACP, I would be denied because I'm white. And it's legal for them to do that. So if an organization like the NAACP can essentially discriminate, why couldn't my business?

I'm sure there's a logical answer, but I just don't know what it is. Does being a non-profit make a difference?

I'm pretty sure NAACP accepts any color of person and that they don't discriminate based on race for their scholarships, which would go against everything they're working for.

Dan it is my understanding that the NAACP Is a private membership based association. So the requirement for scholarships can be whatever they want them to be. The same goes for the thousands of other private scholarships giving out based on race, religion,
social economic standing ect… The NAACP is not the only association with race based scholarship requirements. Public organizations and publicly funded intuitions have different requirements. There are rules governing certain race based scholarship requirements.

I had a groom (white guy) that father would not pay for his college tuition. The groom’s family had tons of money and could have paid for it. The groom’s dad wanted to teach his son a lesson. My client decided to go to a local historically black college that had an amazing agro/ turf management school. After his first year at the college 4.0 gpa he went in search of scholarships. The groom did not want to take out student loans. Long story short. My client applied for a gpa based scholarship at the historically black college. He got a letter stating that he could not receive the scholarship because he was white. My client then asked for a meeting and explained how he was perfect for the scholarship. They again brushed him off because of race. My client asked for another meeting and informed the school if he was not reconsidered for the scholarship
he would be forced to file a lawsuit. Long story short my client got the scholarship
for the next three years fully paid. Also the day he graduated his dad gave him
a check for the full amount it would have cost him for the four years of
college. Win Win!!!

How come we can have private scholarships for a specific race but when we have one for only Caucasians, that is against the law? Isn't that discrimination as well?

I'm pretty sure it's not against the law. But it would be frowned upon, picketed, and there might very well be a riot in the streets. Oh, and you can be sure that Sharpton and Jackson would be screaming from the rooftops!

Just imagine, they would have nothing to do and would disappear from the limelight if racism disappeared overnight. That couldn't happen though because Jackson and Sharpton are working very hard to make sure racism stays alive and kicking.

Dan racism and discrimination of all kinds are still alive and strong. Black / White , Gay / Straight , Old / Young, Male / Female Race discrimination just happens to be huge part of Americas past and present.

Arvin race based scholarships are a hot button issue. Let's be clear almost every race has some form of scholarship with a race requirement in it. The big issue is who is giving out the scholarship. This is were the legality comes into play. Yes scholarship discrimination is not limited to just one race. Some times the race requirement is not illegal but it is just wrong. It seems like we only hear about it when the discrimination is against African Americans.

I'm with you here. It seems, though, that there are race-based scholarships available for all races except white. But that's the norm... there's no WET (White Entertainment Television), White History Month, etc., etc. It's possible it would be legal to have a White History Month, but it would be forced out of existence by mass riots and boycotts. Black History Month, though... no problem.

It's clearly reached a point where being a non-handicapped straight white male is the most discriminated against class in America.

Dan there are legal scholarships given out to just whites.
That I am totally fine with. As for your other comments. I would like to ask
you to step back and think of the reason why there is a Black History
Month. Also think of the reason why there is a BET (Black Entertainment Television) I have herd your same argument over and over again.
People with your thought process fail to the see how big of a impact
that slavery and racial discrimination has played in our country. Yes we have come a long way. You throw around mass riots and boycotts like its only a Black thing. Your comments and tone are coming across a bit emotional, for lack of better words. Try to walk a mile in your neighbors shoes. You might just want to give the back.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there isn't any talk of what the true underlying principle in this situation is. That is that the initiation of force is immoral. It is wrong on any grounds to initiate force against someone who is acting peacefully. Choosing to not photograph a wedding for whatever ridiculous, propagandized beliefs one may have is not initiating force against anyone. However, having the state point their guns at that person to pay reparations, or be put in a cage because you are offended by their view is initiating force.

Who cares if someone is a bigot. Call them out for it, sure. Then let the market decide whether they stay in business. Stop running to the guns of the state to "solve" your problems. The state is no answer. This is why we have rulers, because we are to afraid to have real, meaningful relationships with people.

In the real world, justice and equality don't always happen naturally. How long would it be before blacks would receive equal rights if they just have thought, "Some people are bigots, nothing we can do about it. Sitting in the back of the bus is not too bad. They can have their white-only restaurants, drinking fountains, bathrooms, and schools, I'll just go to a different place."? Probably a very long time. And what would it be like if we don't have the government or cops to enforce the law? Do you really think everyone will just do the right thing naturally?

I probably shouldn't reply, but perhaps this will help, maybe not. The interesting thing about the history of black equality is that government laws made it more difficult for people to be equal. Marriage licenses, minimum wage laws, jim crow laws, and many other restrictive regulations imposed through government force worked to keep the black population segregated. And it is still happening with subsidies and compulsory schooling. In fact, the bus companies in your example didn't want to force the blacks to the back of the bus because they were their main customer base.

I think it would be absolutely wonderful if there were no giant gang of thugs that went around extorting people of their productive abilities and income, waging massively destructive wars (which wars can only be destructive), and propagandizing and pillaging the future of humanity.

No I don't think everyone will just do the right thing. But not having a government, does not mean not having rules. Anarchy means not having rulers. Lets get rid of the monopoly that is granted to government and let the free market work it's magic. We'll actually have protection and security, and healthcare, and all of the other things that people want, cheaper and more efficient than you could ever have under government. Force does not equal freedom.

Sounds like you're a social Darwinist. "Let's get rid of the government and cops and let nature fight it out. The wealthiest and strongest will rule. The wealthy and strong will have security, protection, health care, and all they want. It'll be cheaper for the strong and wealthy because they don't have to worry about the poor (those lazy leeches that are always looking for a free handout from us hard workers). Let the wealthy and strong work their magic and make slaves of everyone. Let's get rid of all these rules, regulations, and equality bullshit."

As I thought, replying was futile. I can only say seek truth through knowledge, reason, and objectivity. You've failed to even address my first assertion that the initiation of force is immoral. It doesn't matter what perceived consequences you come up with to say that a stateless society won't work. Because to do so is to admit that immorality is okay if people acting under a concept called government are the ones initiating force. These people are no different fundamentally from any other person. They do not have any special grant of privilege to allow them to be moral and initiate force at the same time. It's one or the other.

Please look into Austrian economics, ethics, and philosophy. Your skepticism is typical of most people that have been propagandized their entire lives. Government does not create equality. Force does not create equality. Immorality does not create equality. Freedom and voluntary action creates equality.

You seem to think as if I've never heard the conservative's talking point before. Regurgitating Rush Limbaugh's or Ann Coulter's talking points don't make you look like a philosopher or a thinker. To assume that I'm ignorant on the topic of philosophy might be a mistake.

We live in a democracy where majority rules. I totally understand that it doesn't seem fair to be in the top 1%-10%. I mean you guys have it so rough. It is so immoral to compel the few (that have more than enough) to give more to benefit the many.

But you know what? You can have your Austrian ethics and philosophy. And I'll stick with Spock's philosophy... “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.”

Is it immoral to compel the few that have more than enough to give to the many so the many can can survive? You say compulsion is immoral, but I say that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few.

And trying to appear intelligent only works with the ignorant. You have to prove your intelligence and not just sound smart.

Tommy. You failed to deal with what is in black & white on the page before you. You have no idea what he(James) thinks of YOU and what you know. He is sharing his ideas on what he thinks will work. Do you claim to have all the answers ? No ? good. Do some research then. For yourself. Not Rush or Ann's viewpoint, but yours too.

Well said

Larry Clay's picture

My thoughts exactly James. This country is really going down hill fast and this crap coming out of New Mexico is adding fuel to the collectivist fire. Today I am ashamed of being a New Mexican.

Why is someone automatically a bigot because they don't support gay marriage?

Well, I never actually called anyone a bigot. I said who cares if someone is a bigot. However, I do think the label applies by definition. Bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

By that definition (minus the hatred on both sides) this same-sex couple are bigots for being intolerant of this woman's beliefe and going so far as to take legal action against them for because of it. Is that not also bigotry? And if you think about it, everyone is a bigot about one thing or another.

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