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Photo Studio Loses Again in Claiming a Right to Discriminate

Photo Studio Loses Again in Claiming a Right to Discriminate


After an appellate court decision today sided with a lesbian couple, right-wing religious groups claim they are the real victims in the case of a wedding photographer who refused to shoot a commitment ceremony.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals decided Elaine Huguenin was wrong to refuse shooting pictures of a commitment ceremony for Vanessa Willock after learning in 2006 that it was for a same-sex couple. Huguenin is owner of Elane Photography in New Mexico and claimed a religious right to discriminate.

"Homosexual activists are absolutely determined to punish people who refuse to embrace and celebrate their lifestyle choices," wrote Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in his newsletter today. "Isn't that what the Obama administration has done with its mandate on contraception and abortion pills? If the Left can't crowd conservatives out of the marketplace, then it will enlist the courts or the White House to force them out -- whether it's Constitutional or not."

Perkins says Elane Photography is a private business that has the right to decide who it serves (and who it doesn't). But lawyers for Willock argued that it's actually a "public accommodation" that falls under the antidiscrimination clause in the state's Human Rights Act.

Huguenin made very clear why she wouldn't take their business in emails exchanged at the outset.

"We are researching potential photographers for our commitment ceremony," wrote Willock. "This is a same-gender ceremony. If you are open to helping us celebrate our day we'd like to receive pricing information. Thanks."

"Hello Vanessa," Huguenin replied. "As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singer's portfolios."

That got Willock wondering: "I'm a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response," she wrote. "Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?"

"Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings," Huguenin replied, "but again, thanks for checking out our site!"

The state's Human Rights Commission decided first in 2008 that the photo studio was wrong and ordered it to pay more than $6,000 in lawyers' fees. Then a district court judge backed that ruling, and now the state appellate court has followed suit.

Perkins in his newsletter seemed to find the whole thing unfair, describing the Human Rights Commission as "a setting that more resembled a Third-World tribunal." And lawyers for the studio from the Alliance Defense Fund have said they will appeal yet again to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Perkins adds, "And beyond, if necessary."

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