In Denying Case of New Mexico Photographer, Supreme Court Upholds Equal Rights for Customers

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On Monday, April 7, the United States Supreme Court declined to take up a case that would have determined whether or not a commercial photographer in New Mexico was protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause when she refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Court’s decision to not hear the case upholds the results of prior rulings in New Mexico. These rulings determined the photographer had a violated state law that prohibits discrimination by those offering services to the public based on sexual orientation.

The Court’s decision came without comment, according to the Christian Science Monitor. USA Today reported that had the Court chosen to hear the case, it would have posed an important constitutional question with far-reaching implications — whether or not merchants who provide inherently expressive products and services should be required to serve customers whose beliefs conflict with their own.

The case originally came from Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, whose commercial photography company, Elane Photography, declined to provide its service for a 2007 commitment ceremony between two women, the Washington Post reported. Commercial photographers take pictures of a wide variety of subjects, including artifacts, buildings, merchandise, landscapes and models. They are often hired to provide their services for weddings and similar ceremonies.

In their original petition to the court, the Huguenins stated that taking photos for same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies would “require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.” During the case, the New Mexico state rights commission determined that the Huguenins had acted in violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The State Supreme Court would later uphold this decision unanimously.

Several groups that support gay rights have spoken out, saying the Supreme Court’s decision is an important victory as the country moves toward equality.

“The business is simply providing a commercial service,” Joshua Block, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said in a statement. “Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules to protect customers from discrimination in the marketplace.”

Twenty other states currently have anti-discrimination legislation similar to New Mexico, according to USA Today. However, according to the Washington Post, the New Mexico case has prompted some states to propose legislation that would protect companies and individuals who feel that providing certain services to same-sex couples would be a violation of their religious beliefs. Arizona is one such state.

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