A professional photographer who refused to take pictures of a gay couple’s commitment ceremony violated state anti-discrimination laws, the New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled.
The court on Thursday agreed with a previous ruling, in which a district court judge said the photo studio is considered public, similar to a restaurant or store, and cannot refuse service based on sexual orientation, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/JSAdE5 ). The photography studio had argued that its refusal was not an act of discrimination but a reflection of the owners’ religious and moral beliefs.
Vanessa Willock asked the studio, Elane Photography, in 2006 about taking pictures of a same-gender ceremony but was told it handled only traditional weddings. When her partner contacted the studio without revealing her sexual orientation, she was given a price list and sent a follow-up email.
Willock filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled that Elane Photography violated the state Human Rights Act and ordered it to pay nearly $7,000 in legal fees. A district court later upheld the commission’s ruling.
Appellate court Judge Tim Garcia said a 1981 state Supreme Court case expanded the concept of public accommodation to include nontraditional and non-historic businesses. The opinion is in line with a national trend, said Tobias Barrington Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania School of Law professor who represented Willock on appeal.
“I really think what’s most important about this case is that it is the first time (New Mexico) appellate courts have talked about scope of the statute in a really comprehensive way,” he said.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based legal alliance of Christian attorneys and others that represented the studio, plans to appeal. Elane Photography argued that it provided discretionary, unique and expressive services that aren’t a public accommodation under the Human Rights Act.
The studio asked hypothetically whether an African-American photographer would be required to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally.
The court responded: “The Ku Klux Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”