NM commission rules photographer discriminated against gay couple
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-A professional photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple's commitment ceremony because of her religious beliefs violated New Mexico discrimination law, a human rights panel ruled.
Vanessa Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission in 2006, contending that Albuquerque photographer Elaine Huguenin told her she photographed only traditional marriages. Huguenin and her husband, Jon, own Elane Photography.
The commission's one-page ruling Wednesday said Elane Photography violated the state Human Rights Act by discriminating against Willock on the basis of sexual orientation, and should pay $6,637 for Willock's attorney's fees and costs.
Willock, through her attorney, said in an e-mail that she was pleased by the finding.
"I feel that it is an important decision towards defining the responsibilities of business when they offer their services to the public in this state," she said.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that defends religious liberty, plans to appeal to state district court.
"The fact she is a commercial business does not mean she loses her constititutional protection. ... The constitution prevents
the government from forcing people to choose between their faith and their livelihood," ADF's senior counsel, Jordan Lorence, said Friday.
The commission viewed Huguenin's business as a public accommodation, similar to a restaurant or a store.
Willock's attorney, Julie Sakura of Santa Fe, said the commission's decision based on a public accommodation "is the correct application of New Mexico law to the facts of this case."
Lorence argued that even if the studio were a public accommodation, it is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Elaine Huguenin, as a Christian, would not photograph such things as a horror movie or something showing abortion in a positive light, either, Lorence said.
"There's a great artistic component to photography, and a lot of messages are communicated with a wedding-type ceremony," Lorence said. "No one should be compelled to participate in a ceremony when they disagree with it. The government is compelling speech here in a way that violates the First Amendment."
He said the ADF will appeal "as far as it will go." The organization has 90 days to file its appeal.
The state Senate this year shelved a proposal to allow for domestic partnerships in New Mexico after critics expressed concern that the measure was similar to recognizing gay marriage.