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

So let me get this straight. I can turn you down because you're a moron but not because you're a ymca.

As a photographer, sometimes everyone "steps out" from a "red flag client" job. Did anyone thought, maybe this photographer felt she can't shoot properly a same-sex event, so she wasn't /just/ racist!? Well, honestly, photographing gay marriage on the first time can be felt awkward for the photographer and it can be shown on the final work also (on location portrait posing?). As a straight man, even I don't know how I can handle similar situation in the future!? Honestly, she did the right thing when she felt the same. After all, all of us protecting our businesses. We know what our limits are, and definitely not the international equal rights organizations.

Now she will got penalty and political education, because of her business policy... MOST OF YOU also can go to court, when you didn't wanted to shoot (e.g.) a fatty wedding... Just think about that when you speak about "equal rights"...

"You see the string in other's eyes, but you not see the timber in yours."

Personally, I photograph everything and anything when it comes to people, no matter what their personal lives entail, but I firmly believe a photographer should have the right not to photograph something they personally don't believe in, this ruling is absurd. These points of view go both ways what a closed minded discussion. What's ironic is the one-sidedness of this entire ruling. What's next?!

Not to mention to the client there are 1000's of other photographers who would gladly shoot their event. Move on and let it go, find someone who is the right photog for you and make that happen.

Andrew Williams's picture

It's wrong to discriminate but at the same time it's her business and the court should have no say in how it's operated.

Drew, you say it's wrong to discriminate, but everyone does. What if in the middle of the night you had two paths to walk to get home. One path had a couple of guys dressed in shorts and t-shirts talking with each other and the other had a couple of guys dressed like thugs standing around. You would clearly take the shorts and t-shirt path. Are you discriminating against the guys dressed like thugs? Sure. It's a stereotype that guys dressed like thugs are more likely to be dangerous. You had no other evidence as to the danger level other than what how they looked, but made a decision based on a stereotype. That's discrimination. We ALL do it.

Now comparing a personal safety decision to choosing against shooting a gay wedding are totally different things. But I'm just making the point that not all discrimination is bad and everyone does it.

Vadim Rybin's picture

The world clearly has gone mad with political correctness and discrimination issues!
Sometimes I think I'm lucky to live in Ukraine, where some of these very tricky matters are not so scrupulously regulated by the state. We can still call things what they are and not be immediately sued for that. Well, we also still got bears walking our streets and a president with an IQ of a 7year-old...
I guess, it takes time - a few generations - to change mentality. Our grandchildren might be totally fine with photographing a gay (or is only "same-sex" acceptable?) marriage, because they will have lived a life without even thinking that there is something wrong with gay people or that their love is any different. Gay kids won't be picked on at schools by heterosexual kids - and not because it's discrimination and doing so can get you in trouble with the law - but just because there will be no reason for it. The LGBT community will gradually blend in and assimilate - and the period when they're constantly in their period will be over. There will be no one to fight (not that heterosexuals will be driven to extinction).
That takes time and requires strict laws, I guess...
But when I realize that a state court might force me into photographing a client I don't like (for any reason), someone I am unable to form an intimate connection with - which is crucial for me in order to take good pictures - that makes me feel very frustrated. That is very far from the definition of "personal freedom" in my head.
The funny thing is that due to the anti-discrimination laws, certain groups of people (please, don't look for racism or sexism here) are getting more priviledged, and not based on their skills, experience or just being a good person - but simply because they were born this way.
And yet - these people are not in any way impaired, and - in my opinion - should have the same rights as others. Which also means that refusing to provide a such a personal art service as is photography to a black gay woman should be just as easy as turning down a heterosexual white male.
I have friends who are gay - hey, one of my favorite teachers at school was gay! - but to me they are not any better or worse than others, until they start bragging about their uniqueness.

Being gay does not make a person more unique or valuable to society. Yet, it's trendy to be proud that you're gay. While "I'm proud of being straight!" sounds a bit sexist and discriminative in your head, doesn't it?
I wish that couple had spent more time looking for a photographer that was really good at photographing same-sex marriages, with a solid portfolio that showed his/her connection with the couples. Someone who could truly enjoy being there and capturing the moments. But that clearly wasn't their intention.

Bottom line - as a photographer living and working in Ukraine, I am soooo happy not to be OBLIGATED to watch or photograph two kissing men. Two ladies in white, exploring each other's oral cavities - hey, where do I sign? :)

This decision trounces two fundamental areas of the Bill of Rights - the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Should I be able to use my freedom of religion to deny you your civil rights? You can believe what you want or say what you want (Here in the U.S. anyway), but when your beliefs or words affect the freedom and rights of others, whose rights and freedom should take precedence?

Larry Clay's picture

In this case no freedoms or rights were effected. The only way you can deny someone's freedom or rights is through the use of force. No force was applied here against the same sex couple, but force was applied against the photographer so her rights were abridged.

All I can say is having a business not to photograph a particular venue should be left up to the photographer. Just think, If I was asked to photograph two men or women having sex or in boudoir photos, I have the right to say no and not participate. If I was asked to do nude photos for a couple, I have the right to say no based on my beliefs. Why is it that GAY couple has the right to sue a photography for declining services? Makes no sense to me. The couple could have gone elsewhere, by forcing photographers to except, this is like saying except who we are PERIOD. No one should be forced to do something they don't like, especially if it's no harming anyone, this would have not harmed this couple, they sued, WOn and off to choose a photographer that will do their wedding, so what's the point. Photographers should all get together and protest or from now on claim they are booked for the year.

Let Gay photographers do gay weddings, I'm sure their are plenty out their.

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.
And you can say no to take a nude photos of a couple because you wouldn't discriminate on the basic of a nude body, that doesn't exist in the law, but if that couple was two man or woman, you'll be in trouble. Nobody force you to go in business.
"Let Gay photographers do gay weddings", well also we could...let the black photographers do black weddings and let the latino photographers do latino weddings and jew photographers do jew weddings... and after all, let the male photographers do male book sessions and female photographers do female sessions and also kids sessions because the man aren't good enough with kids, the patience and stuff like that...don't you?

Pato Villanueva's picture

To me, it sounds like discrimination indeed. You can't just refuse your services to some one without at least giving a good reason. Anyone here would feel offended I'm sure.

Larry Clay's picture

I can and will refuse my services based on my own morals and judgment without regard to you, the government or what anyone else has to say about it. This is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States to protect my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is no protection, nor should there be, against getting your feelings hurt or people having different thoughts and morals then yours.

I think the key here is that it was a ceremony. Everyone talks, everyone has their own thoughts - we can't read minds, as much as we like to say what people are thinking. If an electrician was working on the house of a same sex couple they wouldn't stop working on religious grounds, nor would a builder. If a same sex couple were shopping it'd be pretty low if they were not served.

In this case they weren't asking for some candids, or family shots, but an actual ceremony. I know a lot of people wouldn't turn down work at all, but the person was civil about it, and it seems a long way from hate....people have their own comfort zones. You can't shout them out of it, you can't use the law to drag them out of it, you can only polarise and create sides.

Wow, so many "professional" photographers with very unprofessional views on providing service to potential clients. I'm sorry, but if you do business in a state which has adopted statutes that prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation (or any other protected category within your jurisdiction's laws), then you have to abide by the law. Simple as that. If you can't abide by that requirement, then either get the law changed or move to a state that does not impose such requirements. (Admittedly, the latter option might eventually become completely unavailable in the U.S.)

Working with a same-sex couple is not so radically different from working with an opposite-sex couple that it requires a substantially different skill set. The queasiness some people seem to be wrestling with seems to me to spring from little more than a simple unwillingness to engage with LGBT persons on anything other than the most superficial level. I'm sorry, but one doesn't need to agree or support someone or their beliefs to be able to meaningfully engage with that person and provide professional service. Just because I photograph a Hindu wedding does not mean that I'm advocating or supporting the Hindu faith.

An earlier commenter had it exactly right, in situations where one receives an inquiry about providing a service you might not be comfortable providing. Communicate to the prospective client that you will provide the service to the best of your ability if they book you (as that is what the law requires). It's ok to be honest that you may not be the best photographer for the situation due to your personal beliefs and lack of experience working with same-sex couples, but be prepared to immediately recommend other photographers of comparable skill/pricing who are comfortable providing such services. However, if they proceed to book you, despite that disclaimer, then it's your duty, as a professional, to carry out the task to the best of your ability.

"Professional" doesn't mean without principles. It doesn't mean to care only for money and business. A professional is not (necessarily) a robot.

A professional has a duty ONLY to people he promised something. He has the duty to deliver what he promised in a contract.

"Just because I photograph a Hindu wedding does not mean that I'm advocating or supporting the Hindu faith."

It's your belief, don't force it to others. Simple.

A professional also abides by the law. Even if one's scruples might dictate otherwise. Where the law requires me to treat persons equally based upon race, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation, then I have to do just that. That means that I can't pick and choose who I accept as clients based upon those factors.

While being a professional does not mean giving up one's beliefs and feelings, it does mean (at least in my view) that one needs to strive to provide the same level of service to a client regardless of what my personal feelings about that client may be. I expect my doctor, lawyer, web designer, or grocer to provide me with the same quality of service as they provide to their other patients/clients/customers, regardless of their personal beliefs about my race, religion, sexual orientation, or age. Why should I be held to any different standard just because I'm a photographer?

Nobody's asking Elaine to change her beliefs. She can believe whatever she wants when she photographs a same-sex wedding -- she's not being compelled to support same-sex marriage by doing so. She's merely being required to provide the same services that she provides to opposite-sex couples. If she lacks the objectivity to perform as a wedding photographer without her personal beliefs and feelings getting in the way, then perhaps she needs to seek out a different type of photography to practice.

The way the market is changing, I suspect that those photographers (and other vendors) who acquire a reputation for discrimination against same-sex couples may find themselves with a shrinking pool of potential clients. Young couples are becoming increasingly sensitive to such issues and taking them into consideration in choosing who they hire for their weddings.

Very often laws are wrong (based on the "scruples" of a group who made enough lobby) or wrong interpreted. If a law can be imposed by lobby, then it can be abrogated by lobby. If nothing is absolute (including sex relations and marriage), then you have no right to enforce a law like this.

I must have the right and the freedom to chose who I work for. I have no obligation to people I chose not to work for. Your comparison with doctors is completely wrong, especially because photography is not something they can't get married without.

I think I must have the freedom to live by my principles. If you don't live by your principles and beliefs, they are useless. Why gay people don't keep their sexual life and marriages private?

" If she lacks the objectivity to perform as a wedding photographer
without her personal beliefs and feelings getting in the way, then
perhaps she needs to seek out a different type of photography to

So much about discrimination, huh? Isn't it more logical to seek another photographer?? I am forced to provide a service I don't like, but I must accept same sex marriages because they like having gay sex? Why what THEY like has more value than what I like?? Abnormal behavior leads to abnormal judgment.

"The way the market is changing, I suspect that those photographers (and
other vendors) who acquire a reputation for discrimination against
same-sex couples may find themselves with a shrinking pool of potential
clients. "

Sure, why do they need stupid law suits? Let the market regulate commercial relations. There is no need to force someone to do something. Its against freedom.

You're right. It isn't a big of a deal. But it does get tiresome when the perpetrators of it try to play the martyr though.

And you're dead on about racism and such going more subtle like the constant digs on Obama's birth versus Paula Deen who admitted to referring to a bank robber who put a gun to her head in 1986 using that one word that drives people berserk to her husband. Donald Trump gets to keep his show and whatnot where as Paula Deen "used the word" as Bill Maher put it and so she must disappear.

Larry Clay's picture

It is clear that most people responding to this issue are missing the point. The government should only exist to protect your rights and mine from coercion. Requiring a person or business to provide a service or product to anyone against their own judgment, no matter what their reason, is wrong. Refusing to photograph a same sex marriage does no harm to couple in question. They are free to hire someone else. Read the constitution then read Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith. The constitution does not guarantee that our feelings won't get hurt but does guarantee our right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The only thing awarded in the final judgement was that Elaine Photography, LLC, had to pay over $6,600 in attorney's fees that Vanessa Willcock ran up during this process. A different photographer was hired with no problems. Why? I just don't understand why you would attack someone over personal beliefs like that. Just seems very spiteful and intolerant to me.

Gays are such crybabies!! 'Wah, wah, nobody likes me, I must sue!!' Pathetic! *pukes

Freedom includes being free to be good and moral. People have moral rights too. Maybe that is what the law should be looking at. All these gays trying to bully good people with morals because they want to push their lifestyle choices in everyone's faces. This supreme court is by no means "supreme" in the grand scheme of things. It is made up of all kinds of people. Immoral and some moral people. What country that claims it is a free country infringes on people's own consciences? This court has violated the moral rights of this photographer. Shame on them!

"Good people with morals" should know that it's immoral to discriminate.

It's also "immoral" to support an act that you feel is itself immoral. And those that say photographers are not "supporting" same-sex couples while being the professional hired photographer are wrong. We don't just "take pictures" of what's happening. That's no big deal at all. Lots of people "take pictures" of things they disagree with and have no feelings of supporting that act or situation.

But as a hired wedding photographer, it's my job to engage them in acts that I might find immoral to represent their relationship as it exists. I have to pose them in romantic and affectionate positions that represent their feelings for each other, and then capture those feelings in an image and then enhance it. I don't just "take pictures" of them. We have to make images that positively represent that relationship. I'd say that's supporting an act that you feel is immoral.

Could I do it? Sure. But I don't have a religious objection to it. And the more people that turn away gay couples, the more there are for those of us that *want* to shoot those weddings. And soon the discriminatory businesses will disappear because they won't get any business. I'd say that's a better process of thinning the herd than the government stepping in yet again to tell us what we can and cannot do.

When did it become to governments job to tell you how to do business? When did it become their job to force a certain lifestyle on the public? Our government has become to big and taken too many liberties in molding the public.

When? Trying starting a business and you'll see just how many licenses you'll need and how many rules and regulations you'll have to follow. Yeah, it sucks but those rules and regulations were usually created because someone cheated or harmed the public. And the rules and regulations were usually created to protect the general public (yeah, you AND those with lifestyles that you disagree with are in this group also).

Larry Clay's picture

Tommy, Marx would be proud of you!

Actually it is that big of a deal. I don't know why so many of you want the government to regulate everything. The government is taking too many liberties with controlling how people do business and how they live their life and what lifestyle they should live. Case in point, New York trying to make a law that didn't allow people to drink a certain amount of soda. Not being able to choose your clients is too controlling of a law to many people. There are thousands of business who do that despite the law. Everyone constantly brings up restaurants and denying service to people, but that is just an easy idea and because it is such a commonly used service. But what about, say, a financial advisor? Are they not allowed to discriminate by income? If your business for the last 30 years has been to clients that have a minimum of $250,000 to invest and someone with $5,000 comes in and wants to use them as a financial advisor, should they really not be able to deny them service? These laws are really predicated on control and forcing people to think a certain way, and that is a big problem. If you don't see that, then it's an even bigger problem.

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