State of New Mexico Tells a Religious Photographer: You Have to Take Pictures at a Gay Commitment Ceremony!

I am a strong supporter of gay marriage, but I think that the below story is an outrageous violation, by authorities in New Mexico, of conscientious religious objection.

According to the Associated Press this weekend:

A professional photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony because of her religious beliefs violated New Mexico discrimination law, a human rights panel ruled. Vanessa Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission in 2006, contending that Albuquerque photographer Elaine Huguenin told her she photographed only traditional marriages. Huguenin and her husband, Jon, own Elane Photography.

And the commision’s reasoning for its ruling? Again, according to AP:

The commission viewed Huguenin’s business as a public accommodation, similar to a restaurant or a store.

A lower court has sided with the commission, generating an appeals process. I hope, as a gay marriage supporter, that this commission’s infringement on the conscience of a photographer is quickly overturned. It is not good for the gay rights movement to be seen as forcing religious people to participate in gay gatherings or civil union ceremonies, and it is not good for civil liberties and the protection of conscience. The right to non-participation and conscientious objection must be vigilantly safeguarded in a free society. It is one thing to tell religious people that they must not interfere with the freedoms and equal treatment of gay people under the law, but it is another thing entirely to force religious people to associate themselves with activities or functions that they regard as morally objectionable. Hopefully the State would never step in and require religious photographers to participate in a pornography convention or an atheist convention against their will, and so the State should likewise not be forcing photographers to participate in gay gatherings against their will.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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21 Responses to State of New Mexico Tells a Religious Photographer: You Have to Take Pictures at a Gay Commitment Ceremony!

  1. Jesse says:

    Very nicely said. I especially like your examples near the end concerning pornography/atheist conventions… when you say it in such clear terms as that, it’s pretty easy to see what should be done.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jesse,

    My commitment to gay marriage is a strong one. But my commitment to freedom of speech and liberty of conscience is equally strong. I think that we can have both. I am utterly flabergasted by people—right or left—who feel that they can tell people how to live their lives. It is an authoritarian impulse, and there are people on both sides of the political spectrum susceptible to it. Those of us who reject illiberalism must fight authoritarians (whatever their professed allegences).

    —Santi

  3. Jared K. says:

    Santi,

    Well put. I appreciate your consistency here–recognizing the rights of both sides of the issue.

  4. GaySandM says:

    he needs to just to his job… what if he came into the hospital where i work and i refused to treat him because of my beliefs that conflict with his?

  5. santitafarella says:

    GaySandM:

    Distinctions matter here. If you are in the employ of a hospital you are under contract with them to treat whoever comes through the door. If they have a no-discrimination policy, then you should treat the person, or quit your job and go elsewhere to work. But this photographer is not in the employ of the State, and the photographer think that gay relationships are morally wrong. I’m not sure why this distinction is so difficult for you to get. Are you an authoritarian? Do you think that you can force the conscience of others?

    —Santi

  6. Bonzai says:

    Santi,

    Suppose I open a business and post a sign that says ‘no gays allowed’. Do you think it is ok because I am not employed by the state or under state contract? What if I put up a sign that says ‘no blacks allowed’?

    It is not a right to set up a business. Since you profit off a community and uses its infrastructures there are certain obligations a business must fulfill. Being non discriminatory to everyone in the community is one such obligation. There is nothing ‘illiberal’ about it.

    Many Canadians and Europeans would probably agree with the above and don’t find the commission’s ruling the least bit controversial. The attitude in the U.S. may be different as it is a more individualistic society.

    Nice blog you have here.

  7. Bonzai says:

    Oh, also the pornography convention analogy doesn’t hold up.

    The state doesn’t force the photographer to *participate* in any activity more than or above what is normally required by the job. Particpating in porn conventions is not one such requirement.

    No one argues that the photographer should be required to take pictures of the said gay couple consumating their marriage, just as the law would not compel her to partake in filming the love making of a straight couple. There is complete level playing field here.

  8. Jared K. says:

    I think Bonzai is misunderstanding Santi’s point (not that I speak for Santi).

    First, this is a photographer who does on-site shoots at events, not someone who owns a retail “shop”. The photographer, if she even has a shop, clearly was not banning gays from coming in to meet with her about her photography service. What we do know is that this photographer objects to shooting gay weddings, not necessarily gay people (she might be happy to shoot rainbow parades and cher-look-a-like contests for all we know!).

    There is something to be said for anyone who would be stupid enough to put up a sign in their shop window that says “no gays allowed”. I would almost support the right to do this if there were sufficient competition in the area and the items sold were not necessities of life. If such a shop owner existed, wouldn’t you want him to put up such a sign so the world would know his bigotry? You might otherwise shop there every week and unknowingly fund, with your patronizing, major political campaigns against gay rights! If the shopowner told the world, gays and most everyone else could act accordingly and avoid doing business with such a nutjob.

    But I personally think the real point is this: We never want to force private actors to participate events that the actor objects to on moral grounds unless it is something critically necessary. Medical care, food, and necessities are a different story. But here, we are talking about a bloody wedding photographer! Just hire someone else for crying out loud. This clearly is not a product or service so scarce and critically necessary that government ought to be forcing private actors to participate against their will.

    I for one think Santi’s analogy to the porn convention is a perfect parallel. If a photographer objected to working around porn and nudity on moral grounds, she should not be forced to take photos at such an event simply because she was the first photographer selected out of the phone book. Nobody is saying you can’t have your porn convention or gay wedding, just don’t force others to participate when there are many other good photographers out there that will happily take your money.

  9. Jared K. says:

    One other thought: from a constitutional standpoint (we are talking about laws here, right?), there is a tremendous difference between African Americans and gays.

    Suspect classifications based on race trigger strict scrutiny. For gays, the standard of review is merely rational basis. The 14th Amendment was written expressly for the purpose of protecting African Americans. You might not agree, but current constitutional jurisprudence (generally accepted by liberals as well as conservatives) rejects the notion that gays and blacks are exactly the same type of class–even if gays are a class that should have special protections.

    And everyone knows that the general rule (with some exceptions–like the CRA of 1964) is that Constitutional protections like these only apply to government. Private actors are generally free to discriminate in any way that they choose. If you want to start a club and ban all white folks, or all women, you are free to do so. The government does not interfere. This is Constitational Law 101.

  10. Bonzai says:

    jarad K

    ‘First, this is a photographer who does on-site shoots at events, not someone who owns a retail “shop”. The photographer, if she even has a shop, clearly was not banning gays from coming in to meet with her about her photography service. What we do know is that this photographer objects to shooting gay weddings, not necessarily gay people (she might be happy to shoot rainbow parades and cher-look-a-like contests for all we know!).’

    Whether the business proprietor has a store or not is incidental to my argument. I can change it to a say, a plumber. If Joe the plummer decides that he only provides service to white Christians, it would be morally the same as putting a sign that says ‘only white Christians allowed’ in a store, only without a store front, he *in effect* puts it on his business card instead.

    The point is that this individual is operating a business, making money out of the community and therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that he/she should fulfill some kind of obligations for this privilege. Providing non discriminatory access is a reasonable requirement, just as paying taxes is a reasonable requirement. I am not sure if anyone other than the extreme rightwing nuts would argue that it is illiberal to require people who make money out of society to pay taxes for its upkeep (we can debate about tax rate, but that is a different issue)

    “But I personally think the real point is this: We never want to force private actors to participate events that the actor objects to on moral grounds unless it is something critically necessary. ”

    I think that is a very American attitude.

    “Just hire someone else for crying out loud. This clearly is not a product or service so scarce and critically necessary that government ought to be forcing private actors to participate against their will.”

    It is the matter of principle. Imagine the 1960’s, before the civil right movement. It was not necessary for blacks to shop at ‘white only stores’ as long as there were stores that served blacks, but what kind of social message did it send out?

    As I said, the difference between Europeans, Canadians and Americans is that for Europeans and Canadians ‘social good’ is a legitimate reason to limit certain individual rights, because they understand that a truely liberal society can only be achieved as a result of a fine balance of rights, obligations and power. Therefore, being a ‘private business’ doesn’t let one off the hook. It is not an excuse to engage in egregious anti-social behaviour. On the other hand, Americans seem to have this very atomized view of individuals as essentially isolated self maximizing beings.

    “I for one think Santi’s analogy to the porn convention is a perfect parallel. If a photographer objected to working around porn and nudity on moral grounds, she should not be forced to take photos at such an event simply because she was the first photographer selected out of the phone book”

    No. This would be an example for discrimination based on the nature of the work, not based on the characteristics of the potential clients. This is acceptable ‘discrimination’ but irrelevant. No one insists that the photographer must agree to taking pictures of the gay couple having sex, for example. She is only expected to perform activities that are normally required of her job, nothing more.

    Finally, I find it interesting that even a great liberal,–I don’t mean it sarcastically,- like Santi would swallow the narrative that this is a question of private ‘moral’. If the photographer has refused to
    work at mixed race weddings, would people buy that it is about conflicting ‘morality’? I think most people would simply say that she is immoral, peroid.

    • Jon-Paul says:

      Bonzai,

      A well-thought out precept and a well-reasoned response; likewise, I have been covering this particular story since its inception (almost) and I want to add that Santi’s original article at WordPress is powerful and conscionable. I don’t mind saying that I am against same-sex marriage; however, not same-sex unions wording here is critical.

      I believe now as I did with the Californian’s; if people want something and ask for it, in the American society they have a strong possibly of obtaining what they’ve asked for. I believe that if same-sexed couples wanted the exact same rights as their counterparts, having just stated that I believe would have been far easier accepted by the general public.

      However, I also feel that existentially, when people are suspicious about the facts or motives behind the request, then again I believe that they are in for a real unpleasant fight. I do agree with Santi, and Bonzai and their notion of ‘…who can tell whom how to live…?’

      Yet, if individuals want the same rights, privileges, headaches, etc, as married couples then with all my heart I feel that all the rhetoric vis-a-vie “marriage” discrimination, and ‘gay is the new black’ is not advancing that agenda whatsoever.

      I’ve written and written; call it a ‘union’ ‘contract’ loving couples celebrate unity, heck, whatever; and I think the public is willing; come as a wolf is sheep’s clothing is going to hurt.

      jps

  11. Jesse says:

    Is no one entitled to their freedom of choice anymore? I don’t understand how that photographer does not have the right to determine whose job request to accept and whose to reject. Is this photographer obligated to take on everyone’s request?

    So if a bride-to-be came to this photographer and asked them to photograph her risque bridal shower, would she be obligated to perform the job, regardless of what goes on at the gig? Regardless of whether or not there is extreme vulgarity that is offensive to the photographer?

    What about restaurants that put up those “No shoes, no shirt, no service” signs. Why isn’t anyone suing them?

    This seems so cut and dry to me.

    • Jon-Paul says:

      Sorry Jesse! There is not Constitutional protection for freedom of choice…anymore.

      Unless of course it involvess “reverse-discrimination.” Cheers!

  12. Jesse says:

    “No. This would be an example for discrimination based on the nature of the work, not based on the characteristics of the potential clients. This is acceptable ‘discrimination’ but irrelevant. No one insists that the photographer must agree to taking pictures of the gay couple having sex, for example. She is only expected to perform activities that are normally required of her job, nothing more.”

    So who is to say what is and what isn’t offensive to the photographer? Yes, I think we all agree that photographing something blatantly sexual is not in a photographer’s line of duty. But have you stopped to think that perhaps just even being at the wedding of a same-sex couple is offensive to people?

  13. Bonzai says:

    lesse

    What are you talking about? What do you think may go on at the gig that would be extremely vulgar?

    She was discriminating SOLELY based on the fact that it is a gay wedding. This is discrimination based on the characteristics of the couple, not what they may do during the wedding. It would be completely reasonable if she refuses to show up in a wedding that say, involves wild orgies as that is not commonly expected in weddings.

    Again, putting up a no shirt, no shoes, no service sign is not discriminating based on the propsective customers’ characteristics. Presumably anyone can put on a shirt and a shoe if he so chooses.

    • Jon-Paul says:

      Sorry Bonzai not on this one!

      As I understand the matters surrounding the issue: In the beginning the request was made by Vanessa Willock, one of the parties in the wedding. As I understand the circumstances, this request was made via email to ‘Elane’s Photography’ requesting the services of Elaine Huguenin. Apparently, Ms. Huguenin is quite good and in high demand.

      Originally she responded with the normal questionnaire type information of date, time, artistry and the like, by return email. This was also when Ms. Huguenin noticed that the language in the first email from Willock referred to ‘marriage’ as “Come and Celebrate our Civil Union” which prompted her to contact Ms. Willock regarding her own personal belief’s vis-a-vie traditional weddings.

      I hasten to add that all things being equal, when I first became privy to this case it did look to me very much a “discrimination—civil rights” scam. I do agree with Jesse insofar as “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” however with prejudice.

      Had Elaine Huguenin explained to Ms. Willock that she was unavailable that weekend we would not be addressing this situation at all. However, even though it is an infringement on her Constitutional rights of speech, religion, expression, and more, the perceived notion of “sexual orientation” trumped all of it and New Mexico sounds like a third world state.

  14. Jesse says:

    I can attest that for someone who opposes same-sex marriage, as this photographer obviously does, seeing a same-sex couple kiss is offensive. Seeing them embrace is offensive.

    I don’t know what weddings you’re used to going to, but seeing two people of the same sex kiss and embrace has never been “commonly expected in weddings.”

  15. Jared K. says:

    Bonzai,

    I think I understand a bit better where you are coming from. You might be surprised by this (having read my above posts), but I have communitarian leanings myself and I know exactly what it is like to get nauseous at Americans (or in my case, fellow Americans) who seem to, almost mechanically throw out the same tired individualistic arguments for every disputed political issue.

    Check out my comments, especially the 2nd one, here:
    https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/are-you-single-rush-limbaugh-was-a-big-turn-on-to-a-21-year-old-female-at-gopac-2009/
    You’ll see I actually wrote the following paragraph:

    “”I rarely hear civil libertarians discussing social responsibilities and the common good. Instead, they invoke individual rights ad nauseum. Individual rights are paramount, but when is the last time that anyone with a voice in our political discourse noted how individual rights and liberties need to be balanced with the broader interest of the community? We almost never hear about this, even from traditionalists, let alone civil libertarians. I know this sounds almost heretical for an American to say, but it really is possible for a society to become so radically individualistic–finding fundamental rights under every rock–that it begins to take its toll on the broader community and the social climate. Rights talk, it seems to me, is the single greatest contributor to political partisanship and divisiveness in this country.””

    So Bonzai, I do know exactly where you are coming from–the standards of review that I mentioned earlier in American Constitutional Law actually bother me quite a bit. I have real problems with the idea that so many policy questions are already decided in advance by Constitutional jurisprudence. I would rather see communities and even adversaries work out compromises that meet in the middle.

    But I am highly pragmatic in addition to leaning communitarian (and maybe I am just another American–maybe it is impossible not to absorb the individualism in the U.S.). I don’t know what country you live in (or if you are American, what state), but in most of America, homosexuality is still a divisive and uncomfortable moral topic for folks. You may be appalled at that–but it is the reality here–and I don’t just mean liberal vs. conservative.

    Have a look at the way that progressives in the U.S. tout their gay rights credentials only to make jokes at the expense of gays in their very next breath–which implicitly says “hey, gays can do whatever they want–I’m an enlightened 21st century citizen and I don’t get in the way of gay lifestyle choices. But I will crack constant jokes at their expense–jokes that suggests there is, ultimately, something weird, funny, and wrong about the way gays are.”

    My point is, even our progressives don’t REALLY accept homosexuals.

    There simply is no way, at least right now, to force folks in America to do the kinds of things that you want to do. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with your proposal to regulate private businesses in great detail. I don’t rule out, from the very suggestion, the possibility of this type of government regulation. Although I can’t speak for him, Santi, for example, would probably tend to be opposed, in principle, to such regulation–I’m not.
    So one primary reason why I oppose your idea is because, right now, it simply wouldn’t work. You couldn’t get such a law passed, let alone enforced.

    Another reason: I myself am religous and I think that religous people, like gay people, need their interests taken into account and balanced with all other interests. I think this is precisely why I am attracted to communitarian ideas. Rather than exalting one value above all else (like libertarians exalt individual liberty far above the common good), it is best to balance values broadly. While I respect where you are coming from, I think that you are doing something quite similar to what libertarians are doing–you are exalting one group’s rights and interests above all other considerations. Gays have rights and they deserve respect and protection under the law. But we have to balance that interest with other important interests as well, like freedom of moral or religious conscience.

    Again, I appreciate and respect where you are coming from. But if I understand you correctly, I think your position is a bit too strong to work and too strong to achieve a fair result.

    You sound very interesting and thoughtful even though we disagree on this. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts if you care to share. Do you have a blog or email?

    • Jon-Paul says:

      Jared:

      Really enjoyed your last comment; the one I’m replying too. Interesting that you bring up ‘Right talk” insofar as I have done a great deal of research and study in that area. I do find your notion to be extraordinary correct!

      Yet there is a question that I have and maybe you could shed a light for me? In your comment you state:
      “Gays have rights and they deserve respect and protection under the law. But we have to balance that interest with other important interests as well, like freedom of moral or religious conscience.”

      First up I agree with your sentiment; however, where my question comes in is at the notion of: “Gays have rights and they deserve respect and protection under the law…” What rights outside of the Constitution and societal norms do they have? Why do you espouse that they deserve respect? Most of all why do you feel they should enjoy ‘protected status’?

      I ask these questions as a matter of respect to you. All things being equal, I believe that most stereotypical Americans know very little about how, why, and what the motives for forging this nation the way that is originally was. In other words, I believe most just ‘go with the flow.’ Furthermore, respect is something that is earned and not demanded. When folks having no basis scream loud enough then for some reason, their screaming become legitimate. Why? I feel that all one needs to do is look at procreation (reproduction) for a quick answer of common sense and logic. And as far as ‘protected status’ as for me it is completely unconscionable.

      And lastly, if anyone were to read the actual court (tribunal) documents regarding Elaine’s case and the subsequent decision, there is more collusion, lying, and fixing that would certainly qualify her for entrapment. Great writing and chatting with you all!

      jps @ American Age and: levioosa at gmail dot com

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