by Bob Smietana
A Christian photography business in New Mexico must pay a substantial fine for declining to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony, after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down their appeal.
The Supreme Court’s decision means the end of a nearly eight-year legal battle for Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography.
In 2006, a lesbian couple asked the Huguenins to take photos of their ceremony. The Huguenins declined, citing religious beliefs. They were later fined for violating a New Mexico anti-discrimination law, which requires businesses to serve customers and clients without regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.
The New Mexico State Supreme Court upheld the $6,637.94 fine in 2013, in a case known as Elane Photography v. Willock.
Attorneys for Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents the Huguenins, said the fine violates the couple’s freedom of religion and speech.
Alan Sears, president of ADF, said the couple is out of legal options for now.
“Make no mistake – this issue is all about the government forcing a citizen to communicate a message against her will and against her belief,” Sears said in a video commentary after the Supreme Court turned the case down.
Similar cases are pending in the legal system involving a florist and a baker who similarly turned down work for a same-sex wedding.
Those cases came up earlier this year during a discussion of religious liberty at the National Religious Broadcasters convention.
Jay Sekulow, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, warned that courts would likely frown on Christian business people who say their faith doesn’t allow them to serve gay couples.
He said most judges now equate sexual orientation with race. So they’d be unlikely to rule in favor of religious liberty challenges to anti-discrimination laws.
He warned a court ruling against those businesses could set a precedent that might restrict religious liberty in the future.
If a state official tried to require pastors to marry same-sex couples, he said, that would be a clearer example of infringement. “That’s the case you want,” Sekulow said.
A 2013 study from LifeWay Research found that 58 percent of Americans say same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) say it is inevitable same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide.
The LifeWay study found mixed-support for religious objections to taking part in same sex-weddings.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (58 percent) say photographers should be able to turn down same-sex weddings. Two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans say pastors should be able to refuse to officiate a same-sex wedding.
Only 4 in 10 (40 percent) say a rental hall should be able to turn down a same-sex couple, while less than 3 in 10 (27 percent) say landlords should be able to turn down same-sex couples as tenants.
Few (14 percent) said employers should be able to refuse employment to someone based on sexual preference.
Bob Smietana (@bobsmietana) is senior writer and content editor of Facts & Trends.