Elane Hugenin and her husband Jon run Elane Photography in Albuquerque. In 2006, when Vanessa Willock, a lesbian, approached Elane and requested that she photograph her commitment ceremony, Hugenin declined, stating that she only covers traditional weddings.
The situation soon ended up before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, who ruled against Hugenin in 2008, stating that she was guilty of violating the state’s “sexual orientation” discrimination law. New Mexico law prohibits “any person in a public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services …to any person because of…sexual orientation.” The commission then ordered the photographer to pay nearly $7,000 in fines for refusing to shoot the ceremony.
Hugenin appealed the decision in December 2009, arguing that forcing her to go against her beliefs regarding homosexuality would be like forcing African Americans to photograph Klu Klux Klan members. Earlier this month, the court released a 45-page opinion upholding the guilty verdict.
“The owners of Elane Photography must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed upon the conduct of their commercial enterprise despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with these government interests,” Judge Tim Garcia wrote on behalf of the panel. “The Klu-Klux-Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which is representing Hugenin, disagrees with the court’s assessment.
“Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs,” remarked ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy? Of course not, and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience. Because the Constitution prohibits the state from forcing unwilling artists to promote a message they disagree with, we will certainly appeal this decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court.”
ADF says that it plans to file the appeal in early July.