Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in Same-Gender Wedding Business Dispute

By Julissa Catalan

The Supreme Court has declined to review an appeal from Elane Photographers—a Christian couple who refused to shoot a same-gender wedding ceremony.

This means the original judgment by New Mexico’s high court—which ruled that the photographers discriminated against the couple—still stands.

Elaine and Jon Huguenin, the owners of Elane Photography, were originally brought to court in 2006 by Vanessa Willock and Misty Collinsworth after declining to work their wedding because they only provided services for “traditional weddings.”

Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission against Elane Photography stating that the decline in services violated the state’s anti-discrimination law as it prohibits for-profit businesses to decline services to customers based on their sexual preference.

The court agreed, saying it is considered a violation, “in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

Lawyers for the photographers filed an appeal arguing that the verdict violated their right to freedom of speech by forcing them to “express messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.”

Lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom said the New Mexico anti-discrimination law would force the photographer to “create expression” in violation of her beliefs.

The appeal also stated that when applied broadly, the Human Rights Act would “require individuals who create expression for a living—like marketers, advertisers, publicists and website designers—to speak in conflict with their consciences.

“Of particular relevance here is the Huguenins’ sincere religious belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” their petition continued. “They believe that if they were to communicate a contrary message about marriage — by, for example, telling the story of a polygamous wedding ceremony — they would be disobeying God.”

The couple’s attorney said the Supreme Court had previously ruled that “businesses selling goods or services with an expressive dimension must abide by neutral regulations on commercial conduct.”

In it’s ruling against the photographer, the state Supreme Court refused “to draw the line between ‘creative’ or ‘expressive’ professionals and all others.” For example, the judges said, a “flower shop is not intuitively ‘expressive’, but florists use artistic skills and training to design and construct floral displays.” They also cited bakers and the wedding cakes they make.

“Courts cannot be in the business of deciding which businesses are sufficiently artistic to warrant exemptions from anti-discrimination laws,” the state court concluded.

Though this ruling is only binding in New Mexico, same-gender couples everywhere are hopeful that this will set the precedence for this case to be cited in the future.

The question of whether for-profit vendors should have to provide services even if it goes against their personal beliefs is one that will no doubt be asked again and again. Aside from New Mexico, eight other states requested that the justices take on the case so that lawmakers facing similar decisions could gain some perceptive on the topic and be able to adequately provide “conscience-based exceptions to public-accommodations and same-sex marriage laws.”

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