News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Declines Review of New Mexico Same-Sex Wedding Photography Case

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Court announced it would not hear the appeal of the owners of a photography business who claim they have a constitutional right to refuse to photograph same-sex couples. The decision lets stand a state supreme court ruling that states business owners must provide services to LGBTQ couples the same way they do to heterosexual couples.

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear the appeal of the owners of a New Mexico photography business who claim they have a constitutional right to refuse to photograph same-sex ceremonies.

The case involves Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, the owners of Elane Photography, who in 2007 refused service for the commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple. The couple found another photographer but then sued the Elane Photography owners, arguing the Huguenins’ refusal to take their business violated a New Mexico law that protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

According to the Huguenins, they had no problem taking pictures of LGBTQ individuals, but photographing same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies would “require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.” The Huguenins say in the complaint that the government, through enforcing anti-discrimination laws that prevent them from turning away requests to photograph same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies, violates their First Amendment free speech rights by “compelling” the Huguenins to present images that endorse marriage equality—a political viewpoint they do not support.

The case made its way through the New Mexico courts, with the New Mexico Supreme Court eventually ruling that the studio violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by turning away the commitment ceremony request. According to the state supreme court, the New Mexico Human Rights Act requires a commercial photography business to serve same-sex couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples. It also concluded that the First Amendment does not require an exception for creative or expressive professions.

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The Huguenins had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to take up their case, and the case was twice listed for consideration. But ultimately the court declined, denying review without comment. The Elane Photography case is one of the first to reach the Supreme Court to test the boundaries between advancing equality for the LGBTQ community and claims by religious conservatives that the Constitution grants them a right to discriminate against those individuals because of religious objections to homosexuality.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal means the New Mexico Supreme Court opinion that refuses to recognize this kind of broad religious-based exemption to the state’s anti-discrimination law stands.

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