Leading cultural commentator R. Albert Mohler Jr. writes about a New Mexico Supreme Court decision denying religious liberty claims of photographers who declined a request to photograph a same-sex committment ceremony.
By R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Anyone who still doubts that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage will represent a seismic shift in the culture at large needs only to look to New Mexico to see that nothing less than religious liberty is now under threat—and in a big way.
Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin are the owners of Elane Photography, a firm that operates as a commercial photographic studio. Elaine is the lead photographer and the Huguenins together run the business. In 2006, the couple refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony and were sued. Last week the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the Huguenins had violated the human rights of the same-sex couple and that the First Amendment does not allow Elane Photography to refuse to photograph same-sex unions.
The court’s decision was unanimous, upholding a 2012 decision by an appeals court. The court’s decision declared that the Huguenins had acted unlawfully in refusing to photograph the same-sex commitment, even when Elaine Huguenin had argued that to force her to photograph the celebration of a same-sex ceremony was to force her to function as a celebrant and thereby to violate her own conscience. That last part of the Huguenin’s argument has to do with the fact that photography is “expressive” as an art form. There is no way that photographing a same-sex ceremony would not require the professional photographer to arrange and construct photographs in order to artistically celebrate the same-sex union.
The court concluded: “When Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA [New Mexico Human Rights Act] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.” The court then further concluded: “Even if the services it offers are creative or expressive, Elane Photography must offer its services to customers without regard for the customers’ race, sex, sexual orientation, or other protected classification.”
Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin are Christians who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and a woman. They further believe that they are responsible and faithful only if they avoid any explicit or implied endorsement of same-sex marriage. They insisted that they do not discriminate on the basis of the sexual orientation of the potential client, but only on the basis of the ceremony they are asked to photograph.
The New Mexico Supreme Court dismissed all of the arguments presented on behalf of the Huguenins—arguments that have a very clear precedent in decisions by other courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. The decision in this case by this court is both stark and strident, rejecting the reality that its holding forces a wedding photographer to make an artistic statement against a religious sentiment by supporting certain celebrations that the photographer in fact does not support.
The court’s ruling sets a very dangerous precedent: “If a commercial photography business believes that the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] stifles its creativity, it can remain in business, but it can cease to offer its services to the public at large. Elane Photography’s choice to offer its services to the public is a business decision, not a decision about its freedom of speech.” (more…)