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

Previous comments

laws like this force people to get to know others that are different. When that happens people come away with a fresh viewpoint of others. They find out they are just like us.

Larry Clay's picture

The operative word her is FORCE.

This is such bull. Private businesses have the right to deny service to anyone. Hasn't anyone ever seen signs saying as much? It's sad that it needs to be pointed out, but the courts are horribly wrong on this one. The photographer has a right to not take a job due to her personal beliefs and religious convictions. If you don't like it, don't hire her. Simple. These kinds of law suits need to be illegal. Basically, they're suing for nothing and going to profit from it. What loss was there? Did they loose even one cent on this deal? No. This liberal suing for social engineering crap has got to be stopped.

This is fucking stupid. Everything has to go to court these days. I should have been a freaken lawyer, man. I'd be rich.

Shannon Wimberly's picture

BS.... why would the bride(s) even want someone who doesn't agree with their political stance..... bullying if you ask me..... i avoid Bridezillas as much as possible, but TWO OF THEM would be shear torture........UUuggh!

Rule of thumb: The ACLU can go f*** themselves.
Certain gay couples are just as bad as Elane photography in this case too. Who starts a lawsuit because they "discriminated" against for such a minor thing? Elane handled herself very poorly in the emails, but if I were gay, I would still have the brain power to say 'Alright, I am gay. I live a lifestyle that still makes a vast number of people very uncomfortable and goes against their religious views. I will have to learn to live with weird looks from people, minor discrimination, etc etc. I won't sue the first person who finds it uncomfortable that I am gay.'

In this situation, Elane needs to learn how to speak to people properly and gay people need to stop suing straight people.

I have a question for people who disagree with the decision? WHat if you had a hotel or restaurant and young people who are obviously sexually involved but are not married come in. Would you turn them away. If you dont then you are no consistent. Because the bible condemns both.

The analogies here are mostly all inaccurate. A photographer
produces a deliverable based on the subject being photographed. If that subject, or people, do not meet the photographers style or desired deliverable, they should be able to pass them
over. The apt analogy would be bringing a metal pieces to a carpenter and
demanding they build you a metal structure. The client is the material the
photographer is given to make their art. If that client can’t accept that, then
there are plenty of other photographers that can meet their expectations. The
fashion photographer that won’t shoot a wedding…

This needs to be placed in the correct context. Could the photographer have
taken the assignment and not put any of the images in their portfolio or blog? Sure. But if that is not what they want to shoot why waste their time? What happens if they get referrals, if they did take the shoot, and did a great job? Now that is even more work that they are not able to present as marketing material. What happens when the client inquires why the photographer is not posting images from the wedding on their site or blog? If you are not able to produce what will bring you more of the business you want, you should be able to politely divert the inquiry and suggest alternate resources.

I've read some of these comments about "equal rights." Can someone who has said this is about "rights" please provide a link to the establishment of a "right" to be photographed by the photographer of your choice? Please link this in New Mexico Law or the US Constitution.

Lee Whitman's picture

A business shouldn't be allowed to discrimiate. For instance, would it be ok to deny them service because they were black? Like what happened last Thursday in South Carolina?

"Black Restaurant Patrons Kicked Out After White Woman Feels 'Threatened'"
http://gawker.com/black-restaurant-patrons-kicked-out-after-white-woman-...

If you don't want to shoot a gay/black/hispanic/jewish/KKK/etc. wedding here are your options:
1) Get out of the business
2) Tell a small fib: "Sorry, but I'm booked/have other plans on that date/etc."

Problem solved.

If you really feel that strongly against same sex marriages, just tell the client the truth! Tell them, "I am very uncomfortable with shooting a gay marriage, I think it would be better if you found another photographer who would give you the photos you want, and I am not sure if I can do that. BUT, if you still want me to be the photographer, my price is ....." That way you are persuading them to go a different direction, but not denying them service. I am gay, and I would respect that if that were to happen to me. As long as I am treated with respect, and not just denied due to me being gay, I would respond with respect as well.

All she had to do is say she was booked and this was done with. If you're going to be in business you have to be smarter than Elaine. Period. There are too many ways to work around that so that you never get in this spot to begin with.

This has been mentioned several times, but as noted in one of the many comments above, all the clients had to do (which they did) was inquire a second time *not* disclosing that it was a same-sex marriage and you're busted.

Look, this is easy. This lady basically had a black family come to her asking for pictures and she said she does not shoot photos of african americans. Ok. It is her right to be like that, granted it's closed minded, but there are plenty of ways to get around coming out and saying she doesn't want to photograph them because they are african american.

One way that quickly pops into my mind is that you drive all of your business thru your site. You create forms for potential customers that list full names, what they wanted photographed, when, special ideas, age, sex, and race. All basic information for a lot of companies you request services from. If it's a wedding then you require full names of bride and groom, location, and how many people attending. If it's not what you like then you have a plenty of ways to reject without saying what she said. Heck, you don't even have to respond.

This might seem crazy, but if your business can be attacked then you had best do whatever the hell you can to protect yourself. In the end my only point is that there are plenty of ways to deflect these situations. It all starts with the photographer. If people are going to come at you then you just need to be creative in thinking of ways of filtering out what you do not want to avoid these situations. There is always a way.

So they will force you to photograph people you don't like now? I would probably agree to do it but (after warning the couple that it can happen) make all the photos as bad as possible. They can't force you to like same-sex couples so how can't you show on photos what they want you to be on it, the way they want it to be done - if you disagreed to do it in the first place?

Chic-Fil-A is closed on sundays due to religious beliefs. Malls require all stores to be open during the mall hours, or you get a hefty fine, and eventually lose your lease. Chic-Fil-A is exempt of this due to it being a religious practice. Photography, like food service, is a commercial market... For religious beliefs they can not force you to partake in any service that violates your belief. Funny how gays (of which i am friends with many), want people to stop telling them what to do, yet their always (speaking in general) telling others what to do...

The funny thing is that the photographer is an artistic job, that requires some integration/link with customer/subject/etc. With all respect - its not a baker or taxi driver. When such a link does not exist - well you try as you can to make it all work. But if you are set negative to the customer/subject/etc how can anyone expect that photos will be great? With every photo you leave a piece of yourself. Your negative emotions will be there too in this case. As I posted below - I'm surprised that they insisted to hire this specific photographer...

Did anyone else notice the scariest part of this? It happened BEFORE it was even a law! How do you brake a law that doesnt exist yet? That is scary!

This presents a very interesting delema. How can the government be intolerant of one business owners desired clientele in some cases while allowing it in other cases. For example: Should places like Curves or the American Woman Fitness be forced to let men join? They advertise and run their entire business as being a woman only fitness club (i.e. discriminating by gender). You can't say it's ok for one type of business to be exclusive based on the type of business the owner wants to run while telling another business that they don't have that very same right. It either has to go both ways or neither way in order to be considered equal. (For the record, while I am a male, I have absolutely no objection to Curves and American Woman Fitness running women-only clubs! I'm just using them as an example.)

To all the many of you claiming that the government has no right to tell
you how you should run your private business, you're wrong. On July 2,
1964, President Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. It
invoked the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to outlaw
discrimination in places of public accommodation (privately owned
business that serve the public at large). The use of the Commerce Clause
was upheld by the Supreme Court in Heart of America Atlanta Motel v.
United States. It ended a long period of "Jim Crow" segregation. The
principle was applied in the above mentioned suit that if you own a
business open to the public you must not discriminate against a
protected class of people. The law in New Mexico specifically mentions
sexual orientation along with gender, race as being discriminatory
factors and homosexuals as a protected class of people. By refusing
accommodation to people in this protected class the photographer was in
violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act and violated the civil
rights of the couple. New Mexico State Supreme Court Justice Edward L.
Chavez wrote “a commercial photography business that offers services to
the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is
subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of the New Mexico Human
Rights Act and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it
serves opposite sex couples. That is the law. The couple had the right
to be served just as any opposite-sex couple would be served. That right
was violated by the photographer who refused to offer her services to
them because they were gay.

I don't think the photographer/company has responded in any bad way the first time. I believe that the photographer/company has been lead and entraped into saying that explicitly. The photographer/company has clearly stated they have a range of services they provide and specialise. Even if it would be true they don't like gays, that was not comunicated.

michael guttman's picture

What if two brothers want to marry or woman and a dolphin? Should a photographer still be forced to provide the service if it's against their beliefs?

The inability to think straight due to religious nonsense is the one and only thing I can't stand about Americans. I love the way of life, laws, culture and just about everything in America, but every time religion comes into play, people start acting like brainwashed chimps. She could have just said she only chooses job offers that fit into her portfolio and same-sex wedding wouldn't enrich it in any way, or she doesn't feel qualified for it. Even saying she finds gay people disgusting would make sense to me, although I'm not against homosexuality. But saying her religion doesn't allow her to, I'd sue her just for the sake of fighting single-mindedness.

Where is the problem? Was she the only photographer around? If someone does not feel comfortable with shooting a same-sex wedding, then probably the pictures would be terrible anyway and i someone does not want my money, I will ask someone else. Being gay myself sometimes I really do not understand this kind of behavour. If I want respect, then I have to respect the others too.