As an entrepreneur do you have the right to refuse service to a customer for any given reason? Have you turned down a potential wedding or portrait client based based on personality clashes, style differences or simply for the fact that you had a feeling they might be difficult to work with? What about turning down a same sex commitment ceremony because it went against your beliefs?
In 2006, Elane Hugenin, a Christian photographer in Albuquerque, New Mexico was asked by Vanessa Willock, a lesbian, to photograph her commitment ceremony. Hugenin, who owns Elane Photography with her husband Jon, respectfully declined, stating that she only covered “traditional weddings.” Hugenin explained in court that she was not opposed to photographing gay or lesbian clients, but the message communicated with a ceremony celebrating a same sex union is directly in conflict with her religious beliefs.[Rewind: “From Russia With Love” ~ A Photo Series Profiles Lesbian Couples Living in Russia]
Willock found another photographer, but took the case to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission and the commission ruled against Hugenin, stating that the photographer violated New Mexico’s “sexual orientation” law. The court ruled that based on the law, which prohibits, “any person in a public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services …to any person because of…sexual orientation,” the Hugenin’s were to pay $7,000 in fines.
Hugenin appealed the ruling, but the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, stating that Hugenin discriminated against Willock due to her sexual orientation just as if she were to refuse to shoot a wedding based on a person’s race. Justice Richard Bosson stated in the court’s unanimous decision, that the Hugenins were “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.” He further went on to say that “there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life. The Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.”
The Hugenin’s, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a group specializing in religious liberty cases, are now appealing their case with the U.S. Supreme Court. They are arguing that asking the Hugenin’s to go against their religious beliefs and shoot a same sex wedding, that would be like “forcing an African-American photographer to take pictures of a KKK rally.”
This is not just a case of gay rights vs. religious rights, though both sides have been vocal and volatile. Whether you’re pro or anti-gay rights or religious rights, Christian or non Christian, gay or straight, as a business owner, the question remains should the government be able to determine the clients you work with?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.[via @Christian News]
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