The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case in which operators of a New Mexico photography business claimed their refusal to photograph a same-sex wedding was part of their free exercise of religion and therefore not subject to state antidiscrimination law.
Without comment today, the justices listed the case, Elane Photography v. Willock, as one of those they won’t consider, the Washington Blade reports. For the court to take up a case, at least four of the nine justices have to agree to do so.
Elane Photography was found to have violated New Mexico’s antidiscrimination law by declining to photograph the wedding of Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2006. “The wedding was only ceremonial because the incident took place before the state legalized same-sex marriage,” the Blade notes.
The photography business then filed a lawsuit claiming its refusal was protected under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom under the First Amendment. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled last year that Elane Photography had to obey the state’s Human Rights Act because the business constituted a public accommodation. The photo studio then turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in today’s decision.
With the spread of marriage equality, there have been several incidents of businesses citing religion as a reason not to serve same-sex couples. That has resulted in some states considering laws that would allow businesses and individuals to discriminate on this basis; one was recently vetoed in Arizona, but Mississippi’s governor signed one last week. If the Supreme Court had heard the Elane Photography case, one possible outcome would be the court deciding that businesses nationwide could use religious freedom as cover for discrimination.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement praising the high court's decision. “The Supreme Court of the United States today has paved the way for robust enforcement of nondiscrimination laws,” said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow. “When businesses open their doors to the public, they must abide by the law and not expect special treatment based on personal beliefs.”