The Supreme Court has decided that it will not hear the case of the wedding photographer who refused to shoot a same-sex wedding in New Mexico. The refusal by the Supreme Court essentially means that the New Mexico ruling will be the final decision in the case. The central issue in the case was whether or not a New Mexico wedding photographer had the legal right to refuse to work at a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Without explanation, the Justices decided on Monday not to review the highly controversial case. The topic of religious liberty versus gay rights has been one that has spurned hot debate in many different segments of society. The Supreme Court has been dealing with separate issues within each area for some time now, however the New Mexico photographers case would have been a direct confrontation of the two paradigms.
The essence of the case is that Elaine and Jonothan, of Huguenin Photography, reportedly refused service to Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth around 2006. The photographers allegedly said to the lesbian couple that they only shoot photos for traditional wedding ceremonies. The couple was able to find another photographer to cover their ceremony, however they also decided to sue the Huguenin’s for discrimination. The Supreme Court, had it decided to review the case, would have been to determine if the refusal by Huguenin Photography was a constitutionally protected action (free speech) or “commercial conduct” which violated the current laws of commerce.
Religious liberty, free speech, and LGBT issues have been confronting one another quite frequently as of late, and the Supreme Court’s decision to pass on reviewing the photographers case leaves some room for speculation as to why. Additional information may surface at a later time which may help determine exactly why the case was passed on, however at present the decision was not accompanied by comment by the Justices.
Willock and Collinsworth had sued the photographers for violating New Mexico’s “public accommodations” law. The law forbids businesses within New Mexico from discriminating on the basis of a number of factors, including ones sexual orientation. The lesbian couple filed the complaint with the State’s Human Rights Commission over the matter. The Commission ruled in the favor of Willock and Collinsworth and fined the photographers $6, 637.94 in legal fees. The message from the New Mexico Supreme Court was clear, “the first amendment does not exempt creative or expressive businesses from anti-discrimination laws.”
The Supreme Court appeal by the Huguenin’s was somewhat different from the defense raised in the New Mexico case. The major difference was that in the New Mexico case, the primary issue the Huguenin’s had focused on was their constitutionally protected right of free speech. In the US Supreme Court review however, the issue would have more fully focused on how the decision along with the New Mexico ruling was a violation of or an infringement upon the Huguenin’s religious liberty. The photographers did not want to send a message or engage in something that would cause them to be in violation of their religious beliefs and principles.
For now, the topic of religious liberty versus gay rights, at least in the case of the New Mexico photographers, will remain undiscussed in the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court declined to review the case of the wedding photographers who refused to work at a same-sex ceremony. If the trends continue, similar issues are sure to rise again in the future and many await what the nations highest court will have to say on the topic.
By Daniel Worku