Christian Photographer Who Refused Gay Wedding Lost Lawsuit

In January 2008 Elane, a freelance photographer who owns Elane Photography, refused to shoot a gay wedding between two woman and was later sued by Vanessa Willock for discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation.  Elane has now lost the lawsuit and is appealing the ruling by the New Mexico State Human Rights Commission.

So, anything goes now, it’s official. Now I understand from the start of this article that I live in Alabama, where I would probably be sued if I did take wedding photography of a gay marriage, but this is just over the edge. This article is not about gay marriage, really. It is about the freedoms you have as a small business owner, and citizen of this country called America. Today, most of you are almost automatically bias and on a “side” depending on your current life situation, but still, this is really out of hand.

Vanessa Willock vs Elane Photography [HRD# 06-12-20-0685]

This morning while getting ready for service, I started reading my usual list of blogs and news articles when I came across the most ridiculous story I have seen in quite some time. In New Mexico there is a woman who has a wedding photography business called Elane Photography.

She was asked to shoot a wedding between two woman (one being Vanessa Willock, a professor at UNM) in New Mexico. When she refused to take the job saying she only shoots “traditional” weddings, she was sued.

Ok, nothing new here in this day and time I guess. Sad, but typical. In this country now, anyone can sue anyone for any reason at all, but one big difference in this case, she lost. The NM Human Rights Division found her guilty and required to pay damages.  (See now also the Elaine Photography Case before the Human Rights Commission in the State of New Mexico, and their Final Ruling, see also the Alliance Defense Fund Fact Sheet for Elane Photography.)

Vanessa Willock Was Laying in Wait, it Seems

The gay couple who wanted Elane’s photography services, filed this complaint, but it looks like she was just waiting for someone to turn her down. Turns out of course that along with working for UNM, Ms. Vanessa Willock is also an EEO Compliance Representative with the Office of Equal Opportunity.

What does she do there? She investigates claims of discrimination and sexual harassment for the state, and to top it off, she is also a member of the Diversity Committee at the University of New Mexico. All that begs the question of the motives Willock has or had when trying to hire this photographer and a case could be made that she was just waiting for someone to say no!

New Mexico Now Picking Your Clients?

Last time I checked we still lived in a free country? This is not some big organization under equal opportunity laws, this is a two person husband and wife photography business. I don’t know anyone that does freelance work that is required to take a job, but now the state of New Mexico is telling this couple what business clients they have to accept!

News West 9: The state Human Rights Commission ruled in April that Elane Photography violated the Human Rights Act by discriminating against Vanessa Willock on the basis of sexual orientation.

Willock contended Albuquerque photographer Elaine Huguenin told her that she photographed only traditional marriages.

I don’t really care what the issue is pertaining to, how in the world can the state tell a two person business what clients they can and can’t take. I know there are a ton of photographers who have refused certain jobs for one reason or another. What happened if the “minister” refused to marry them (unlikely I know, they would have hand picked her) on the basis of Paul’s letter to the Romans or something. Is the state going to “force” religious institutions now to marry people just because the state says it is ok?

we reserve the right to refuse

Any small business can be sued for any reason if they refuse their services to anyone now I guess. What ever happened to “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Guess those days are long gone and the only thing that remains is the actual sign on the business door.

A free marketplace dictates that if one business refuses, another will receive that business. You know, Supply and demand, expenses, profit, all that business type stuff. Obviously the money is less important to Elane Photography than the issue, so just take your business somewhere else. Do we have to sue EVERYONE now?

New Mexico Getting Slammed for Good Reason

I guess this is where New Mexico wants to be. Apparently there are also 20 others states that have these types of refusal laws in place. You take one tiny, and I mean TINY minority (the gay population is said to be around 2%) of any kind, doesn’t matter what it is, their rights supersede those of everyone else. There are so many issues with this particular case it is hard to know what to pick on, but leave it up to the bloggers and they will do a good job as always. So, blogs and news sites galore are slamming New Mexico for good reason. Just to name a few, we have:

and it really just goes on and on. I am sorry, but how stupid are these people on the New Mexico commission or the state in total for putting these ridiculous laws in place and for telling a two person business what clients they have to take. Not only is the state telling me how to run my business but they are requiring someone to do something that is against their religious principles in favor of something that most people in this country are against in the first place.

Have You as a Photographer Ever Refused a Job?

So, I know there are tons of Christian Wedding photographers out there. Are you going to do a wedding because the state tells you to? I really don’t care what the issue is, gay marriage, the intelligence level of the bride/groom, green men from mars, who cares, you own your own business so you can take the clients you want to take, right?

Well, the suit is now up for appeal and The Alliance Defense Fund‘s appeal asks the state district court to reverse the commission’s decision and dismiss Willock’s complaint.” Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and Ms Willock will have to pay for her own expenses and this won’t set a precedent across the states, making it illegal to not work, if that is the choice you make.

Update :: You can also see additional information at Willock vs Elane Photography Refusing Gay Wedding Update

87 thoughts on “Christian Photographer Who Refused Gay Wedding Lost Lawsuit

    1. For a party that freaked out about Sharia Law ( the moral code and religious law of a prophetic religion) and accused President Obama of passing Sharia Laws, Arizona, Kansas and other REPUBLICAN house states that have passed bills to legalize discrimination against other Americans based on religious beliefs….well – may I remind you- Success is not becoming what you hate.PS- You have failed.

  1. Wow, you spend a little bit of time casting suspicion on the motives of the plaintiff, but what facts do you have? It’s just bald speculation.

    As to the little business owned by two persons, if those two persons owned a food stand, and refused to serve Af-Am customers, simply because of who they are, that would clearly be covered as a violation under the most basic constitutional case law.

    And that case law arose out of situations right where you live, in the deep South. I mean, honestly, you have NO idea whether the days are past when people can put up signs claiming their right not to serve who they don’t want to serve? Time to call up your local high school history teacher and ask if you can sit in on some classes.

    1. You are comparing a food stand to a wedding photographer. Nice. Lawyers can refuse cases. Designers can refuse contracts. But a wedding photographer can’t refuse a wedding concept? FYI, busy wedding photographers get to interview their clients and base the decision on whether or not they want to do the wedding on such things as venue, budget, decor concept, etc… If the photographer doesn’t believe certain types of photos will enhance her portfolio; if they don’t reflect the kind of wedding she’d like to shoot more of in the future, it’s good business practice for her to refuse.

      The hot-dog guy? He doesn’t have that same depth of responsibility. Period.

      1. coem on, dumdumm-in public service, you cannot refuse services based on gender, race, religion or-in 21 states-orientation-thats been the law for almost 50 years (hint-that would include lawyers or ANY public service)

      2. Good reply, I applaud you. Where is the right to refuse? It’s another right that’s being infringed. Shame on what is falled justice. Question. . . Was the judge gay?

    2. I bet that if the KKK wanted her to photograph one of they’re rituals and she refused. You wouldn’t be standing up for the KKK, now would you. If she refused to photograph a stampeding herd of buffaloes from inside the stampede would you have a problem w/ that. Forcing someone to do something against their will is like slavery. One should not have to go against their principles for a job. If my boss asked me to do something against my principles and I refuse. Then he fires me I might have a reason to sue him, not him sue me. Or maybe I should sue the local sno-cone shop for not having my favorite flavor and now I have to drive another block and a half to get my flavor. The question is not about discrimination, but about which right is more important Freedom of Religion. She as a Christian must reject sin. As Christians we understand that man is sinful and we are all sinful but we do not glorify our sins or sins of others. So as you can see, she can not be faithful to God and do this job. Christ says that any man can find salvation through him. So to discriminate against anyone is wrong. This not is discrimination it is a rejection of the sin. Once again Freedom of Religion the state shall not impose upon. Besides if she wanted to be brave why not go after a muslim photographer. Christians simply reject the sin. muslims stone, hang, or throw them off buildings, but Christians make such easy targets.

    3. If I owned a business food or any other I would serve them. But if they started kissing and making out showing their homosexual position which is against my religious views, then I would not continue to service them. Its the same thing with the wedding photographer. The photographer is going to have to witness and take pictures of kissing and other acts that are against their beliefs. That is what makes the difference. If the homosexual couple don’t show or commit in any homosexual activities, then i’ll photograph the wedding.

    4. The case referred to here is about a single PHOTOGRAPHER, not a vender on the street selling a product. This is a big difference.
      If the photography business in question was large – like Olan Mills or something – this arguement would hold some water…… OR…. possibly …..if there were a shortage of photographers and one simply had to have photographs taken (but I find it very hard to believe one cannot locate a gay-friendly wedding photographer). But…. a 1 or 2 man organization simply cannot be forced to service customers they don’t want to serve.
      Other than being ludicrious, this is completely unenforceable.
      Why is this unenforceable?
      Because it drives any convictions anyone has underground. The biggest mistake the photographer did in this case was expressing her feelings rather than come up with excuses (“We are too busy, we don’t have the manpower) or price this customer particularly high or to some other nefarious act to make sure the customer does not pick them. That sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME people!!! And – yipes! – we ALL do it! Gay people do it!! Minorities do it!!! We ALL do it! We just don’t SAY that’s what we are doing…… you gotta respect someone who does NOT do that, but is honest instead.
      Me – I’d rather deal with people who speak their mind. I know where they stand. I can respect them for saying what they believe in. I don’t like it? I can digest the fact that people are different, and MOVE ON. Besides, would I really want to hire a photographer/surgeon/dentist/parachute instructor who didn’ t like me? For whatever reason? Seriously!
      This suing thing is getting out of hand. It’s unrealistic to force everyone to be in line with the liberal left. If someone is not in line, then they incur the wrath of the left (sound familiar??) regardless of the ridiculous of the situation. Cases like these weaken the liberal agenda (and – surprise! – I’m a liberal) and they make the left look loony and just as closed minded as we accuse the right of being.
      Sooooo – lberal mantra………….not everyone everywhere needs to be sued. Just shop someone else.

  2. @joel thanks for the comment but I think you totally missed the point, it had nothing to do with the gay marriage issue AT ALL, it is the state trying to tell a private business that they must change their beliefs to suit the state and accept specific clients.

    This is NOT a food related business, and is more like telling an artist (of any kind) they MUST do a work of “x” people, which is reduculous.

    The laws are different for larger businesses with actual employees than mom and pop businesses, and your comment is totally bias to a pro gay marriage stance, which isn’t the point.

    You (presumably) want gay marriage but do not think someone doing something strickly according to their own religion should be able to do that???

    You presume a lot about what I did not say, but what I think is wrong is the state telling a person how to run their business, regardless of the issue.

    Scott Fillmers last blog post..Creative Chaos 21 // The Money Series

  3. Agreed, let’s focus on the law and leave the particular issue (gay marriage) aside.

    You continue to emphasize the size of the business, what service they are providing, and especially whether the business is owned by a few members of a family.

    None of that is relevant under the law.

    An apartment for rent (non-food business), owned by a mom and pop (not a large company), cannot decide against renting to a mixed-race couple, or a Scientologist couple, or a devout Muslim family, or any other protected class.

    Under the particulars you raised, such discrimination would be entirely acceptable. Unless, of course, you can tell us how in that instance “The laws are different for larger businesses with actual employees than mom and pop businesses.”

    You also dip back into the particular issue (gay marriage) after you suggested it shouldn’t be the focus: “You (presumably) want gay marriage but do not think someone doing something strickly according to their own religion should be able to do that???”

    By “doing that” do you actually mean a religious practice, or offering goods and services to the public, which is regulated by gov’t? If “doing something strictly according to their own religion” involves religious worship or practice, absolutely they are unregulated. But offering a good/service in the public sphere is not, say, conducting worship. Renting an apartment, photographic services, selling dry goods, etc. are not religious practices, they are goods and services, subject to state/local regulations and laws.

    1. Race and sexual behavior are not the same. Why people ignorantly use one to defend the other. Wouldn’t you be upset if I compared homosexuality to beastiality? Sure both are sexual deviance but are not the same thing. As a minority myself i find the comparison insulting.

      1. But it begs the question were is the line. I agree race and sexual behavior are not the same and business should have leeway on which customers to serve. But were is the line, there was a time that the relations between a man and a woman of different color was considered a sexual deviancy. This no a cut and dry issue.

    2. You are right to an extent. It is wrong to discriminate. But as Christians we are Christians first, Americans second. Christ teaches us to love each other but also teaches us to reject sin. Granted we are all sinful, it is human nature, but we do not glorify our sins nor that of other. To refuse to do a photo shoot, serve food, sell goods or services to someone because they are gay is wrong. But photographing a same sex marriage is glorifying a sin and goes against God. It would be like having a Christian minister preside over the marriage, he could no longer preside over a congregation because he has gone against God. Sin can be forgiven. Glorifying sin, for one that is Christian, would be hard for one to forgive themself. There is also that little thing called “Freedom of Religion” that thing that the government shall not infringe upon. This has happened before not so long ago in another country, Nazi Germany. Christian ministers had to tote the party line to save their lives but what of their souls. Just remember, Christ came to save the sinners, and died to save us of our sins. So as followers of Christ, can you really (no matter what you believe) expect us to glorify the thing he hates most. Christ hates the sin not the sinner.

  4. You write: “[I]t is the state trying to tell a private business that they must change their beliefs to suit the state and accept specific clients.”

    No, the people of the state, through the state, are telling private businesses that they may not discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, regardless of whether the discrimination arises from their “beliefs.”

    Businesses are not mandated to “change” their beliefs. They must conform to certain standards when participating in society as economic agents, but they may always refuse to change their beliefs.

    As Joel suggested, laws prohibiting racial discrimination are no different. No law requires people to think highly of African Americans, or even to think of them as equals. The law addresses only conduct. The same is true here.

    How can a society as diverse as ours function if people withhold business transactions based on whether they find the other party personally distasteful? As Voltaire famously observed, “Go into the Exchange in London, that place more venerable than many a court, and you will see representatives of all the nations assembled there for the profit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion, and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt.”

    Every day people engage in transactions not only with people whose views or conduct they find distasteful, but in such a way that their business profit aids and abets the very thing they dislike. For several years I worked in a small, independent bookstore where many customers seemed to have an insatiable desire for books on certain religious, New Age, and pseudoscientific topics, all of which I personally believe to be psychologically damaging and socially harmful. But I never refused to sell those books or to stock them in the store. Nor did I hide them from display or do anything that would make it more difficult for customers to get to them. Why? Because I recognize that my personal beliefs are personal, but when I am participating in society as a citizen of a free nation where we value the freedom of the individual, my personal beliefs are not to be imposed on others.

    Why religious people should be immune from that distinction eludes me. But I do know that on the rare occasion when the bookstore where I worked had, for whatever reason, failed to stock a particular book that a customer sought, people were quick to claim ideological victimhood, often in an offensive manner. “Are you just too liberal to carry that book?” No, I had just not ordered it, but was always glad to order anything anyone desired—even if I thought it was ridiculous or insidious claptrap.

    Here a religious person blatantly refused to participate in a transaction not unlike selling books—and arguably considerably less involved in the alleged distasteful activity because merely photographing an event one opposes hardly provides the kind of explicit ideological support found in books. That her business was punished for that refusal does not amount to compelling a change in her beliefs, or even an imposition on them—certainly no more than selling books I believe harmful was an imposition on my personal beliefs. She can continue believing as fervently as she likes that homosexuality is wrong, but that rightly provides no safe harbor for discriminatory conduct.

    To demand, as you do impliedly, that religious people be allowed to withhold business transactions or other civil interactions from those they find distasteful is to advocate a fractured society, where people may do business or otherwise interact only with those whose views they agree with. That is not the way of freedom or a robust democratic society. It promotes the establishment of myriad factions and ideological backwaters where tensions and prejudices can be cultivated until they are ripe for hideous conflict, far more destructive than something so relatively peaceful as litigation.

    1. As a photographer in a mostly gay and lesbian city (LA) I have never been sued by any client that I have denied but then again I’ve never said I wouldn’t shoot a wedding or anything else for that matter because of my believes. Most of my denials have been through price or schedule conflicts. Basically if you don’t really want to shoot someone or something you as a photographer have the option to deny by many means. One way is to say you don’t have an opening, another way would be to price the job soooo high that no sane person would hire you. Simple huh? Again this has nothing to do with gay and lesbians. Most of my good friends are either or and are normal people like most of us and they are also in business and practice the same techniques as I do.

      When the wall of rock is too high to go over you go around it!


    2. Peter, while you might sell books that fall under the categories “New Age”, “Religious”, etc., out of a respect of other people’s beliefs, there is no law mandating that you do so.

      Similarly, there really shouldn’t be a law mandating that photographers cater to people of all walks of life. The analogy of the food vendor doesn’t hold up, as food is essential for life. A good food vendor can drive other vendors out of business and obtain a monopoly in the area – if he does so and then refuses to serve certain people, that refusal impinges severely on the refusees’ ability to continue their lives unhindered.

      Photography is not one of life’s necessities, and so photographers should not be treated the same as food vendors. A photographer’s refusal to take a job does not severely impinge on an engaged couple’s ability to live their lives unhindered.

      Moreover, following your argument to its natural end, boycotts ought to be illegal. After all, as long as the boycottee is operating within the law, they too are entitled to their beliefs, and the boycotter’s beliefs ought not be imposed on them.

  5. @joel one part of your argument is incorrect, and that is that smaller business are regulated the same as large ones, this is incorrect, but the differences are specific to smaller companies. A single individual, partnership, or “small” business that has less than a certain number of employees (it is different in each state) do not have to follow certain requirements, mainly because they are barriers to doing business.

    For example, smaller businesses are now required to carry specific heath insurance for their employees if they are under a certain number, or you could also take affirmative action. When that was in place, smaller business did not have to hire or interview a certain number of minorities. Some of this was just out of practicality and would greatly hinder small business, in many cases making it impossible to do business.

    @joel and @peter The bookstore example is a good one, but believe it or not, my wife and I own a book business also, and as you said, we do not pull books on topics we don’t like, or refuse to sell books by certain authors, we list our books strictly according to the profit margin, nothing else. In fact we have sold many books on scientology, witchcraft, astrology, and we also sell a lot of Christian book too.

    The problem I have with that argument is I don’t think it is anywhere near the same as something that I consider an art form, and photography has long been considered an art form (I have also been a photographer for about 15 years now). You can not tell me that something that requires a certainly level of creativity and becomes a personal creative of the artist is the same as selling a book. To me, the images I have taken over the last 15 years represents me, who I am, and shows how I have grown as an artist and photographer. I even think there is a difference in shooting a street scene with gays or any other specific group totally different from a wedding.

    Where a wedding reflects on the photographer, a gay parade (for lack of a better example) reflects on society. There is a big difference.

    You both seem to think I am advocating some form of discrimination, which is completely false. In just the two examples I gave above, it could be detrimental to the business if single sold proprietorships were required to follow the exact same regulations as large corporations, so they don’t.

    You both see this as a discrimination issue, which is telling all by itself as to where you stand. If this person, being a “Christian Photographer” has mostly Christian clients for one reason or another, FORCING the photographer to shoot a gay wedding could very well be detrimental to her business, something the state can not do, and should not do.

    Picking the argument that this is discrimination borders on ridiculous, in this situation (to me). I will also contend that if this was Disney, refusing to shoot photos of gay vacationers while they are already engaged in shooting other couples, that is a different story, and in that case, I would probably agree with the discrimination argument.

    There is a BIG difference in the scenario above, and a single photographer who is trying to eek out a living as a wedding photographer.

    This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the state could very well be requiring a person to be doing something specifically against their religious beliefs, which does not seem to be an important issue from the comments above, but I am sure it is an important issue to her.

    I would make no distinction between this being a religious belief of a Christian, Jew, or Buddhist, I would respect it the same because I want to be able to have the freedom to worship the way I believe, not the state.

    These are many many issues that face our country today, but it wasn’t the point of my original post. It is not a gay marriage thing to me (or discrimination), it is an issue of business, and I don’t want the state telling me how to run my business, especially when doing so would mean I would have a good chance of loosing my customer base or going out of business.

    After all this, what I still don’t get and it seems to run wild amongst “discrimination” and “victim” banter is why in the world would you want a wedding photographer who DOESN’T want to shoot your wedding, to do so????? An event which memories are often made via the photos that are taken, and you would want someone who doesn’t want to be there shooting it, doesn’t and hasn’t ever made any sense to me at all. That is like suing your boss or employer to get your job back… who in the world would want to work in an office you were already fired from, among people who obviously don’t want you there, I wouldn’t.

  6. Whatever happened the the notion of a separation of church and state. I thought the state was to stay out of the church. Why can’t this Christian couple’s religious convictions be tolerated by those on the extreme left? The homosexual couples, or polygamists, or pedophiles should just find another vendor, rather than impose their (im)morality on others.

    1. The separation of church and state has nothing to do with this Rickey. A) no church or religion is involved in this explicitly and B) the lawsuit was in regards to sexual orientation, not religion. Basically, NM has a law about certain types of refusal of service and that comes under the heading of discrimination. You may think businesses ought to be able to discriminate against anyone they like (blacks, Jews, Muslims, women, homosexuals, military personnel, etc.) or you may think that discrimination is bad in some cases (e.g. against straight people) but perfectly acceptable in other (e.g. against gay people). What does not make sense is that you see this is a church and state issue…unless you feel that a core component of the photographer’s religion is discrimination. It is true that members of such a religion would be restricted in the ability to practice their beliefs. However, even if the defendant’s defense was that working for gay people violated the explicit pro-discrimination teachings of his religion, it would still not be a church and state issue. If a worshiper of Baal wants to perform child-sacrifice, that is against the law in the US. If a person belongs to a religion that teachings that one must steal a car a day in order to get into heaven, then that would be against the law. If one belongs to a drive-on-the-left-side-of-the-road religion in the US, then the law would prohibit following the teachings of that religion. Church and state is a somewhat different issue. There has never been a time in the US where a person could violate laws and claim innocence based on the defense: my religion supersedes the law of the land.
      Many (most?) of the churches in the US that have the prefix “southern” (e.g. Southern Baptist) were created because they had explicit pro-slavery positions. When the North won the civil war the Southern church members did not get a special dispensation that allowed them to own slaves. Basically, no matter what your religion, in the US it is required that you follow laws that prohibit mistreating other people.
      Interestingly, the policy is: evil deeds cannot be excused because of religious views. One might think that religion would would make people less, rather than more likely to want to hurt others, but that is apparently a fairly naive view.

  7. My apologies for commenting, then disappearing, then returning weeks later to a conversation that may have gone cold.

    You write: “You both see this as a discrimination issue, which is telling all by itself as to where you stand. If this person, being a ‘Christian Photographer’ has mostly Christian clients for one reason or another, FORCING the photographer to shoot a gay wedding could very well be detrimental to her business, something the state can not do, and should not do.”

    First, the word “forcing” is interesting, especially since you set it out in capital letters. Perhaps the point is subtle, but no one is forcing anyone to do anything, nor is an American court likely to order or allow the “forcing” of a photographer to shoot a gay wedding. The appropriate remedy is an award of money damages, which, if I recall correctly, is what the court awarded.

    Second, I’m not sure what you mean that I “see” this as a discrimination issue—legally, that is the issue, from the plaintiff’s side: If a wedding photographer refuses to shoot a gay wedding, does that act of discrimination violate the civil rights of the gay couple?

    The issue you raise, regarding religious freedom, is a defense in this context, apparently raised by the defendant here: If a wedding photographer incurs liability for refusing to shoot a gay wedding on the ground that the refusal was impermissible discrimination in violation of the plaintiff’s civil rights, does that imposition of liability abridge the photographer’s right to free exercise of religion?

    In other words, it’s not a matter of “seeing” discrimination—the plaintiff already did that by raising the claim on that ground. And, as a matter of discrimination, from what I understand of the applicable law (the New Mexico Human Rights Act), it’s clear that the discrimination occurred.

    The religious freedom issue is much more difficult and not nearly so cut-and-dried as you seem to think, and as the commenter “rickey” seems to think when he or she (apologies for my ignorance on that point) writes: “Why can’t this Christian couple’s religious convictions be tolerated?”

    From the “other side” of the question, there is a deep and troubling concern that religious people are knowingly setting foot on a slippery slope when they raise these kinds of claims. Let me explain, with a little background.

    Under the current law of religious freedom, a “neutral law” of “general applicability” is constitutional, even if it burdens religious practice. In other words, so long as the law doesn’t pick out religious people and specifically burden them, but is equally applicable to everyone, it’s okay. That’s from the U.S. Supreme Court case of Employment Division v. Smith. When that case came down, religious people were pretty upset and Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or “RFRA”), which gave the government a much higher burden to overcome when a citizen claimed that the law kept him or her from some religious practice. The Court found that unconstitutional, but said such laws are within the purview of the state governments. So many state governments have passed similar laws. I’m not sure if the photographer’s defense in this case arises under such a law, but your concerns are essentially the kind that a RFRA is supposed to address.

    Some of us worry about these laws, though, in no small part because their effect is to put a legal tool in the hands of religious people that non-religious people do not have. If a Christian files suit under a state RFRA, claiming that a law burdens his or her free exercise, which arises from the convictions of his or her faith, the Christian will probably win. But if a non-religious person with strongly held beliefs feels that his or her practice of life is somehow circumscribed or limited by a law, no RFRA claim is available.

    Furthermore, how far can a religious person, such as a Christian, go with these claims? The limits are not yet clear. But there are plenty of examples of Christians who fervently believe that their religion trumps all law, including the Constitution. Does “free exercise” mean Christians are exempt from the law and the Constitution? Obviously, if we want to remain a nation ruled by law rather than some form of tyranny, a line must be drawn somewhere. From this side of the question (i.e., from the side that disagrees with your position), the most prudent place to draw the line is simply to nip it in the bud and require religious people to adhere to those “neutral laws” of “general applicability,” such as ones that forbid discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and so on.

    The conflict on that point also raises a more fundamental problem: What, exactly, is religion? Claims have been raised in court by people who practice religions of their own design and founding. Officially, judges are not supposed to distinguish between “real” religions and “fake” ones, although they are allowed to ask whether the claimant is “sincere” in whatever belief he or she claims. But in practice, that must be a difficult call. And what about the religious people who insist that people like me, who claim no religious beliefs, are actually just as religious as anyone else, we just use different words for what we think?

    In my view, it’s not just a simple matter of “tolerating” the “convictions” of someone who doesn’t want the law to apply to his or her conduct. Rather, it raises some of the deepest possible issues, relating to the source and meaning of law and religion, which reach to the fundaments of our society, whose continued existence is essential to us all.

    My point is not that the convictions of Christians or photographers or anyone else should be disregarded, but that their claims are not so simple a matter as they’d like to believe. Part of the problem, in my opinion, arises from persistent misunderstanding on the part of religious people, which I tried to touch on in my comment above, which confuses the difference between beliefs and conduct. But religious people will insist just as strongly that their beliefs compel certain conduct. How, then, do we maintain a society where people are allowed to have differing beliefs, which compel them to mutually exclusive conduct, and still protect all citizens equally under the law? These problems and questions trouble me daily.

    Finally, though I am not a professional photographer, I have occasionally used such services, which typically involves looking at some of the work the photographer has done before deciding to hire. From that perspective, the idea that it’s reasonable for a prospective customer or client (not sure which term your profession uses) to ascribe to the photographer some personal ideological viewpoint based on the prior subjects of his or her work seems, at first, patently absurd to me. But maybe I come by that perspective only because I work in the legal field, where taking up causes one does not personally agree with or approve of—and representing them with as much zeal as one might have if one did approve of them—is just a part of being professional and recognizing that even the people you loathe deserve competent representation in court. Having the experience of, on occasion, working both for people I find despicable and against people with whom I sympathize leaves me with little warmth for the claim that a professional can or should be judged by his or her clients or customers. Part of me wants to say, “Just grow up, get over it, and be professional.” But I have to remind myself that I started out as a musician and ultimately changed course to law after deciding that I could not stomach producing art for pay, and one of my music professors said something to the effect, “Just grow up, get over it, and be professional.” So I certainly see both sides.

    1. Although, as an artist, and a business owner, and a Christian, my inclination is to empathize with the photographer in this case, first let’s try to look at this from the perspective of the couple being denied the service: How would I feel if a photographer told me they couldn’t take senior pictures of my child, because he or she was too fat, and they believed that gluttony was a sin? If I weren’t restrained by God’s advice not to take revenge into my own hands, I might be quick to go looking for some pay-back for that perceived insult. So, let’s truly understand that this type of thing really does offend and anger people &/or hurt their feelings. If we are to practice doing to others what we would have them do to us, if a situation arises when our conscience will not allow us to do a job for a customer, we should carefully consider how to be graceful about it.

      In my opinion, the reason that this non-discrimination law & penalty should not have applied is because the photographer was not actually discriminating against a homosexual individual, or group of people, but against having to personally participate in a ceremony that was against their conscience to be involved with. No photographer (Christian, atheist, or other) should be forced to take pictures of subject matter that personally offends them. For example, I would have no problem photographing a gay person or a group of gay people, if they were not performing homosexual acts, gestures or rites in the photo, and so in my opinion I am not discriminating unjustly; because I am not discriminating against the people themselves, but I should have the freedom to choose the subject matter that I am willing to create a representation of. The logic of the ruling against the photographer would be the same as telling all film-makers that if a customer requests to commission them to film a pornographic film, they are obligated to do so simply on the basis that the customer has no objection to those types of sexual acts and they are willing to pay for your services.

      When a government compels its citizens to commit an act that goes against their conscience, there is something horribly wrong with the law. If I were in that photographer’s shoes, I wouldn’t have been able to photograph the same-sex commitment ceremony, because I believe that doing so would be a sin on my part. The Bible says we are not to participate in or approve of sinful practices (Rom. 1:32). As a Christian, our conscience dictates to us that it is shameful to put ourselves in a situation where we passively look upon sinful behaviors. For any level of American government to criminalize and steeply penalize people for refusing to commit what they see as a sin, on the basis that they would be professionally paid for doing so, is nearly tantamount to forced prostitution.

      It seems to me that refusing gay people services such as dining and lodging or sales of general goods would obviously be wrongful discrimination, as long as some protections for the rights of the business people were also affirmed, such as, but not limited to, the business owner’s right to refuse any customer because their conduct was unbecoming to the atmosphere of the institution, such as kissing or touching a person’s own or other’s private areas, or by trying to bother other people around them by doing or saying things that obviously offend other patrons or employees. And protections for business owners or employees who could not perform a task without feeling that it violated their own conscience. And protections for businesses who did not want to print or create goods or perform services that contradicted their political stances, religious beliefs or sensibilities towards things they perceived to be obscene, sinful, morally wrong, hateful or disrespectful.

      I have chosen, as a business person, to accept a print job that promoted gay marriage, even though I was & am very opposed to gay marriage, and I did so with a clear conscience. I was glad that, in my state, I have the freedom to make that choice. Someone else may feel that it would be wrong for them to do that, and they should have the freedom to make that choice for themself. I have, however, refused to accept an order from a truly violent and hate-driven organization, and I would refuse to accept any order that I felt was obscene or offensive.

      Law is tampering where it doesn’t belong, if it seeks to punish people for living and working according to the tenants of their faith and conscience, just because a customer is offended that the whole world won’t agree with them that their behavior is okay. This law has overstepped where it should not go. It’s ridiculous to say, as someone did earlier, that its okay for someone to believe that homosexual behavior is wrong as long as that person doesn’t act on that belief and refuse to participate in a homosexual rite, after they’ve been offered pay for it. Are we slaves, or free people? Government should not dictate the practice of our beliefs by threatening our livelihoods, in an open market, if the practice of that belief is simply to opt out of providing a creative service or to opt out of taking part in a ceremony.

      Even though all people deserve to be treated with courtesy, all behavior does not need to be honored. I see more harm than good coming from adding sexual-orientation validation to any laws. One problem with the laws that some states and communities have written regarding discrimination against sexual-orientation is that the government is seeking to protect an unhealthy behavior. Our government is quick to tell us that we should eat right and exercise, without worrying that they may offend people who can’t seem to control their desire to over-eat. Then, it makes no sense that the government would encourage a factually unhealthy behavior, such as homosexual practices, by elevating it to a protected class. Additionally these non-discrimination laws have then been used as an excuse to indoctrinate highschool and elementary school children, in some public schools, about homosexual themes, and often without the knowledge or consent of the children’s parents.

      In conclusion, I challenge anyone to say that there is one person on earth that is free of faults. People who are tempted by homosexual behavior are no different than anyone else; when we fail to fix our faults, we try to justify them. However, no matter how many people they convince and how many people they successfully punish for disagreeing with them, they won’t experience the ultimate love and acceptance they desire until they come to Jesus with their flaws and scars and sorrows and allow him to help them and heal them and accept them for who they truly are. Even if they were born that way, they don’t have to stay that way (none of us do); if we want to, we are free to be born again! 🙂

  8. Peter: The situation you cite re your bookstore still allowed you to make the decision as to what kind of books you sold. Would you feel the same way if you were compelled, by law, to sell books that were either against your moral beliefs or had business ramifications. I.E. you are compelled to sell pornographic literature, your store is a religious book store, or a store that only carries business law books etc. Would the fact that someone came in and wanted a book in that or other categories even if you had space limitations for any more books of any kind make sense at all? Sorry your book store analogy doesn’t hold water.
    Should I be allowed to go to a bookstore that sells only religious books or gay/lesbian books etc. and sue them because they refuse to stock books contrary to their beliefs? Of course anyone can sue anyone but would I prevail in such a law suit?
    I believe where there are alternative choices, go to another book store which has the books you want, go to a different photographer. This is not discrimination but common sense. When I go to the grocery store and they don’t have an item I want, I can either ask the Manager to order it for me, which he may or may not choose to do, or I can find another store that carries that item and buy it there. I cannot compel that store to stock the item.
    So as has been cited, to change practices and change laws for any minimum % of the population to the detriment of small businesses when those services are readily available in many ways including the Internet, is simply not good sense.

  9. What is the theological basis for the idea that photographing a same-sex wedding is a violation of someone’s “religious beliefs”.

    Thou shalt not observe?

    P.S. I there any basis for your insinuations about the plaintiff? I’ve read about this issue before and I seem to recall that the plaintiff had seen the photographer’s work from another wedding. Surely, you could prove the accusation that she was shopping around by confirming with other photographers that she sought to contract their services and backed out when they agreed.

    It really is amazing how opposition to gay people seems to carve out an exception to bearing false witness.

  10. @BobN you have hit on so many different issues in just a small few sentenses, but I will say one thing, to your first question

    “What is the theological basis for the idea that photographing a same-sex wedding is a violation of someone’s “religious beliefs”.”

    1, there is specific scriptures that talk about different sins, one of them being homosexuality. It is pretty well documented and therefore people choose to not be involved with, around, near, or have anything to do with sinful behavior if they have a choice.

    it says in one case:


    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (New International Version)

    9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


    Now that lists a lot of other sins at the same time too, so you can make the same argument that someone does not want to go into a bar, even if they are not going to drink, because they might be temped to become drunk. It is not up to me to determine what that threshold for each person, it is different.

    When you start talking about people’s beliefs you are talking about something personal to each person and that is very subjective.

  11. Scott,

    Does your religion have “sins of omission”? You didn’t answer the question.

    Why is homosexuality the ONLY sin that counts? Does the photographer refuse to photograph previous-divorced newlyweds? Does she ask if they vary the repertoire from missionary? Does she look into their work history to see if one is an IRS agent?

    When “Christian” people can accommodate all sorts of clients, but draw the line at homosexuals, which is more likely at play: prejudice or morality?

  12. @BobN I don’t think I ever said that homosexuality was the ONLY sin that counts… in fact, scripture tells us all sin is equal in the eyes of God, doesn’t matter if it is lying, murder, or homosexuality. It is all the same to God, and I don’t make a distinction one way or the other. If someone else does and puts one on a higher plane than another I can’t do anything about that, but that is not what scripture teaches.

    In fact, if you look back at the entire conversation, I never said anything other than I think a business owner should not be told who they must have as their clients (being a sold-proprietorship).

    You are not asking a specific question. You are speaking in vague generalities, like being an IRS agent (which is not a sin in and of itself, although we may like to think so). You also may not know if someone is a thief or if one lies, but pretty obvious is two are gay.

    I guess if we took it to your extreme the photographer should not take any clients at all since all have sinned and all sin is equal.

  13. Kudos on a thoughtful civil blog.

    Re: you suggestion that the plaintiff was laying in wait – after I visited the photographers web site, I don’t find anything that would set her up as a mark. On the other hand, I do see some some very inspired photography with a unique point of view (nice work, Elane). I can imagine the plaintiff being upset and a bit irked if she were rebuffed by this particular business. I would have to have a little bit more evidence to go with the “laying in wait” theory.

    In the interest of injecting a touch of absurdity into the discussion (I did read yours, Ricky, but I am going for absurd, not moronic) – could a business – say a small cafe – charge women more on the basis that their religion beliefs would require them to launder the seat cushions after each female guest? After all, 20% or more of the female customers could be assumed to be menstruating at any given time, and Leviticus 15:19-30 makes it clear that any seats these women use are to be considered unclean and should be washed. Could the hostess ask female customers if they are menstruating and then add a surcharge to the bill? Or, to account for liars, just add the surcharge for all female customers?

    OK, absurdity complete. Thanks for the blog.

  14. This is absurd! Photography isn’t the same as buying food, shopping at a department store, renting an apartment or buying a house. It is a form of art and expression. You can’t force an artist to draw you you can’t force an artist to paint you why is it appropriate for our government to force an artist to protograph you, or punish them for their refusal.
    My understanding from my reading and research is that this photographer was not crule impolite or unkind she stated that she only shot traditional weddings (which is her right, lest we forget in our attempts at being PC) and offered a referal to another photographer she didn’t get up on a soapbox or name call so I am uncertian where the issue is its not like she is the only photographer in New Mexico!

  15. Would it be reasonable to say, “Yes, so I can’t be sued I will photograph your event, but I will be wearing a T-shirt which has very specific Biblical quotes.”

    1. (* in lieu or en lieu, not “in lou”… “Lou” isn’t exactly a religious or political figurehead here. “en lieu” = “in place of” in French, although “in lieu” seems to also be acceptable, too. )

      do you screen other potential clients according to their “lifestyle”? are you going to refuse to shoot a couple because they’re not (yet) married, and they have a child? what if you have a hunch the bride isn’t a virgin? what if, according to you, the groom may drink too much? when does this judgmental creepiness stop? when does it become your place to judge who is worthy of wedding photography and who is not? what do potential clients have to do to earn your approval as a couple? … see where the problems come in?

  16. I think some of you missed a very important point. Elaine advertised itself as a photography studio. Not a Christian photography studio offering services to Christians. Then, they might have been able to define their market offering.

    WIthout out ithis type of classification, they are open for business to anyone that crosses their door step. Public access laws were created for this reason.

    They created a photography business, and Wlicox approached them for photography services… not Christian photography services.

    Someone in this string stated, “:when you put out a shingle, be ready to serve all that show up”.

  17. If a photographer is forced to comply against their religious beliefs, it is against their conduct. How can one do a good job if one is forced against what is believed is wrong. I cannot do a good job and I do just the minimum when I am forced to go against my will. Religious beliefs are deeply held inside one’s being and to try and force against a person means that others can lesson life for that individual. I know that it seems that religious beliefs are chosen, and not important to many people, but to those of us who are religious it is very much a part of our whole life and affects what we do. So conduct against what we hold deeply belittles us and many of us will quit and the loss of religious people especially nurses and doctors as well as other businesses will affect us all. Sure there is the argument about a nation of laws, but those laws used to take in conduct on basic grounds all religions and non-religious people relied on. Now we who are religious are counted as scum of the earth. Don’t expect us to take these areas lying down.
    So to say, we cannot force people against their conscience to perform services with someone who we disagree with. It is the same as the Inquisition of the middle ages and enslaves all of us.

  18. Okay, first of all, let’s get our grammar straight (straight, haha). Woman = one. Women = multiple women. Okay, now that that’s cleared up… This is a precise example of why religious marriage should be a separate entity from federally recognized marriage. This seems to me to be the easiest way to settle this whole shitshow. If you want to get married, awesome – go to the courthouse. If you want to get religiously married, and federally married, awesome, Go to church, AND the courthouse. Separation of church and state at its finest. The Church can decide who they want to exclude from marital rights all day long, while the gov’t is busy taking care of its citizens, and not dealing with this petty bullshit.

  19. Also, no. You can legally reserve the right to refuse a client, as long as you don’t explain why. As soon as you offer reasons which become homophobic / racist, your refusal is illegal. If you don’t want to shoot LGBT clients, please pass along their client info to someone who will gladly shoot them, without prejudice. That’s just like saying that you refuse to shoot a mixed-race couple. Although you’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, it would be idiotic to broadcast such old-world hatred.

    1. @marcella no offense but you seem to have a great misunderstanding of the Christian worldview when it comes to homosexuality… some of what you said is correct, when you say

      but That’s just like saying that you refuse to shoot a mixed-race couple. Although you’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, it would be idiotic to broadcast such old-world hatred

      that couldn’t be more wrong, sorry. Comparing a mixed-race couple, or any race of human being, to a lifestyle of sin is absolutely incorrect, and offensive if i was that mixed race couple. To “broadcast such old-world hatred” is another. It is certainly not hate, but it is certainly NOT old-world either, it is the same now, as it always has been, a sin, period. Just like adultery is sin, and that is no more old-world than anything else. It’s not illegal, but adultery is still sin, but one would never compare race to adultery. The minute our country calls it illegal, saying someone is “racist or homophobic” because of their religious views, we have all lost freedom.

      Thanks for your comments, I do appreciate you taking the time to let us know what you think.

      1. Mixed-race couples getting married used to be considered sinful. I’m sure plenty of other straight couples currently “live in sin”, or do things that you would disagree with for religious reasons. If you’re going to start refusing to shoot people because you don’t like something they do, how far do you take that? Are you also willing to commit to refusing to shoot couples who live together (while unmarried) or have children together? What about couples who have obtained divorces for non-biblically sanctioned reasons? Who is a “good enough” client for you?

        1. It’s not about being “good enough,” none of us are “good enough,” ever. This same question was asked in Luke too, and Jesus answered, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.'”

          There is obviously no one that stands up to the “good enough” measure. This is a matter of condoning sin through homosexuality, and yes, there are plenty of straight couples who “live in sin” as well. People draw their lines in different places. Point is, this is a “free” country, and if you own a personal small business under a specific size, there are not laws stating you “must” take this client or that client. I could refuse someone because they had purple hair if I wanted to.

      2. “@marcella no offense but you seem to have a great misunderstanding of the Christian worldview when it comes to homosexuality…”

        To be fair, there are many different Christian worldviews…

        Some are for capital punishment, some are against it. Some Christians think abortion is ok, or that weed should be legal, and some are flipped on that issue. There are dozens of issues where Christians are heavily split. Likewise with this issue, some Christians claim that Christianity allows for homosexuality and homosexual marriage and some think that it goes against their religion.

        I know, I know, you’re brand of Christianity is the true form of Christianity and everyone elses is incorrect. Yea, funny thing about that – they tell me the same thing too. The no true scottsman logical fallacy is a popular line of defense here…

        Bottom line, its hard to know what the Christian worldview is when Christians are heavily divided on almost any major social issue.

        As far as the mixed race comparison being way off base, I personally think its spot on. Obviously you’d disagree because you think homosexuality is sinful. But to those of us who don’t (nearly half of America) there is no difference between refusing to shoot a homosexual couple or a mix raced wedding. As foreign and odd of a behavior as refusing services because of race, many people see the same thing when they see someone refuse services because of their sexuality. Again I understand you don’t see it that way, just like a KKK member wouldn’t see things from your point of view if it came to being tolerant of a black person marrying a white person. But that’s how many other people, including some Christians, see it.

        I’m split on the issue, personal freedoms are very important. But this is no different from a resturant refusing to serve someone based on gender, race, age, or disibility. It’s certainly wrong in my mind, but is it something the government should step in on? Tough call for me…

  20. If you offer a service and refuse someone this service because of who they are then it is discrimination. period. If i refuse to photograph a person because they black and claimed it was due to my religion then i would have my pants sued off. She isnt selling her art she is selling her services as a wedding photographer.

  21. If you are a providing a public service and discriminate against people in a protected class – you have violated the law. Just like if you refuse to sell your home to a black family because they are black you are in violation of the law. If you refuse to photograph two lesbians getting married because they are lesbians you are in violation of the law. These reason you are refusing matters not at all…protection within the class supersedes your reason. Simple really….

    1. this is not the same thing, not even close… refusing a person due to race is a completely different issues/topic than refusing someone service because they are gay. I don’t know how the black community feels about it, but I would be highly insulted to insinuate that the civil rights movement is on par with the gay issues of our time. I’ve said it before, in this country, if you own a “small business” I refuse the right to serve you because you have purple hair if I want.

      Besides all that, you can not force someone (at least not in this country) to do something that goes against their religious freedoms and rights.

      1. “refusing a person due to race is a completely different issues/topic than refusing someone service because they are gay…”

        Why? I don’t see a difference.

  22. Now as followers of Jesus I feel that we have been discriminated aginst. This sould be a wake up call to the times we now live in. Look up for our redempti..on draws near.

  23. I run a wedding business and I insist on meeting with both of the people getting married before I agree to do their wedding. I tell them we have to see if we have a “good fit” with them as possible clients. In this way, if I get any vibes or weirdness I just call them and tell them that we have decided not to work with them. If it gets to brass tacks you can always get them to sign a release before you commit to their date. I dont work with people I am not comfortable with.

  24. I didn’t read all the comments, obviously, but I’m thinking, I should be able to decide for myself what I want to photograph or not. For instance, if someone wanted to hire me to film a pornographic movie, since I don’t LIKE pornographic movies, people are saying, under the law, that it doesn’t matter. I will be forced to watch other people performing acts that I believe should be PRIVATE. Somebody coming up and buying lemonade and walking away cannot be compared to forcing me to be someplace that I don’t want to be, just for purposes of business. I don’t care what the law says, THAT’S JUST PLAIN WRONG !!!!!

  25. Just read this, I know i’m way behind the commenting time line. As a small business owner I completely agree that the state shouldn’t interfere with my business model, if my model is poor than my company will fail. That’s how businesses should be allowed to run. I should be able to refuse service to whomever I want regardless of the reason. It doesn’t mean I dislike the person, it just doesn’t fit my business model. If it doesn’t take away from any of there freedoms and hurt their ability to live than it shouldn’t matter why I choose to refuse. These couples could have easily found a photographer that would take their pictures. And maybe even create a nice niche for a company that specializes in same sex weddings. It’s a privilege to have a wedding and a photographer there not a right. So not only is the state hurting a small business but they’re removing the ability for a company to specialize in an area, just horrible economics on there part.

  26. Can progressives (go forward) dictate/order to the citizens of the U.S. what they think is best for the collective? Oh my goodness!! Where is the ACLU? The current progressives (go forward) in charge appear to have a wee bit of disdain for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution,,Hmmmm??? Passing strange isn’t it? There is an election coming up, isn’t there? Something to think about don’t you think?

  27. Is it that laws against refusal of service per se are out of bounds (e.g. refusing to serve blacks, Jews, the elderly, etc) or that gays are somehow different from other protected classes?

  28. The photographic artist may as well get some information about the photos that you might like on the day, a wedding is an extraordinary occasion that assembles numerous irritated relatives and there is generally just this day to photo every one of them together. Numerous relatives will be originating from far flung places and the camera person must know to get these essential individuals.

  29. Beautiful images, I am sure they were very pleased. I have been following your work for some time and I have to say your talent is immense. I agree with your thoughts. Wedding photography is not just about talent in photography but it also about being business savvy.

  30. Your wedding day is one of the real developments of your life. With all the cash you use on that impeccable dress, your delightful blossoms, your sentimental venue and the numerous different things that head off together to make your ideal day, you need your memories recorded to reflect your psyche and style.

  31. Pingback: The Wrong Rights |

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