Disclaimer: The following article is an opinion piece by the author. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SLR Lounge as a whole.
I wrote this article nearly a year ago. Like I do with most of my articles, I decided to take some time and let the article “bake” – a practice many writers use so they can come back to the article with fresh eyes after a period of time. But, for some reason publishing the article slipped my mind. Recently with the SCOTUS ruling on LGBT marriage, there has been a lot of questions and debate within the photography community, particularly among wedding photographers. Our own SLR Lounge Community Facebook Group has been debating this now for several days, and I thought it was time to release the original article.
There have been many conversations and questions such as, “Is it right for a Christian to photograph an LGBT wedding?” or “Can I legally deny service to LGBT Couples?” I write this article to provide you all with my perspective on the topic, but I do so knowing that this article will not change the minds or influence those with hardened hearts. I write it in the hopes that it may help those with open hearts gain a new perspective, or perhaps help guide those that are genuinely wrestling with how their business intersects with their beliefs.
Let me also note that I welcome debate and conversation in the comments below. But, should your comments/arguments/debate take a hateful or demeaning turn, we will remove your comment without hesitation. We have worked hard to keep SLR Lounge an uplifting and safe, educational environment, and will continue to do so.
My Personal Background
I am going to start this article off by saying that I am LDS (Mormon) and am very active in my role in the High Council for our area. I am also a convert to the LDS church in that I spent the first half of my life influenced by my relatives who are Muslim, and my father, a former Muslim, turned agnostic/semi-spiritual if you will. I served an LDS mission and returned to marry a Chinese woman who is also an LDS convert. At this point, my family and extended family are composed primarily of Muslims and Buddhists; the two of us being the only LDS/Christians. Because of this, (along with my passion for religious studies), I have had quite a bit of intimate contact with many different religious philosophies.
I bring religion into this debate because honestly, without religion, there is no debate. There isn’t a civil/secular argument that could stand on its own two legs for why LGBT couples shouldn’t get married. Likewise, there isn’t a business argument for why LGBT couples shouldn’t be treated equally in business. Civilly, it makes sense that every individual share equal rights, and in business, it makes sense to serve all clients that are willing to pay for services equally.
For those that want to simply know my opinion and stop reading here, let me give you my short answer:
I will love and serve every client of mine, straight or gay, the same. Not because they are paying me money, but because they are people. They are my brothers and sisters and they deserve the same love and respect as anyone else. Period.
At this point, there may be many of you thinking, “That’s not possible; it’s against your religion” or “Then you aren’t LDS or Christian,” etc. Let me give you my perspective on how I reconcile my beliefs with my behavior.
3 Common Arguments Against Shooting An LGBT Wedding
1. “I don’t want to deny my own beliefs by shooting an LGBT wedding.”
The most common argument I hear is something to the extent of, “I don’t want to deny my own beliefs by shooting an LGBT wedding.” This argument is based on a very skewed line of logic. By this logic, a person feels that by servicing someone who lives their life differently, they tacitly approve of those decisions and deny their own.
To those that are pondering this argument, let me ask you a simple question, “How many of you shoot weddings or run businesses strictly for those that share your same beliefs?” Answering honestly, most of you would probably say that the majority of your clients/customers do not follow your set of beliefs.
But, let’s just make a radical assumption for a moment. Let’s assume that you could actually find enough clients that are of your same belief/religion to support your business. Do you interview each and every one of them to ensure they are living and practicing your mutually believed religious tenets? If you are a Christian, do you ask your clients if they have premarital sex? Do you ask if your clients drink alcohol or do any form of drugs? Do you ask if they are honest in their dealings with their fellow men, avoid paying taxes, break laws or speed on the freeway? Do you ask if they go to church and read the scriptures regularly? Do they obey the law of the tithe and keep the Sabbath day holy?
But, by the original line of logic, would not servicing a Christian client that has premarital sex, drinks alcohol, does drugs or anything else considered a sin also be tacitly condoning those life decisions that are again against your beliefs? By the original line of logic, you should interview each client to ensure they live and practice your religion to your exact same degree.
Yet, none of us are going around giving our clients spiritual interviews (at least I have yet to hear of a photographer doing so). So my point is, where do you draw the line? Most of us that belong to the exact same religion will once again follow a “cafeteria” styled approach to picking and choosing the laws/commandments that we feel are best for us. In every religion and within particular sects, there are varying degrees of obedience and belief by its members.
So, by following this line of logic, you should not service anyone in your business that doesn’t follow your exact same beliefs. This should include those that are of your same religion, but don’t follow the exact laws/commandments that you do. To do so would be to “agree” in their life decisions. The flaw in this line of reasoning is that each one of us is given our own personal moral agency, our own freedom of choice. In fact, many religions (including LDS) hold this as one of the most sacred teachings – that our freedom of choice or “agency” is why we are here in the first place.
This means that befriending, loving, servicing, and supporting others does not in any way, shape or form affect your own personal decisions and moral agency. Your beliefs are still your own. Your decisions are still your own.
To provide an even larger scale example of this, the owners of Marriott Hotels are also Mormon. Yet Marriott hotels choose to service each client/guest equally. Their bars still serve alcohol and drinks, even though Mormons aren’t supposed to drink. Their gift shops offer cigars and cigarettes, even though Mormons don’t smoke. They respect and treat each of their guests equally, and offer the same services their guests would expect at any other hotel.
They offer equal service because to do otherwise would make absolutely no business sense. If Marriott weren’t to offer the same services as other hotels, then the majority of their guests would simply take their business elsewhere.
I think more importantly, they offer equal service to their guests because to do otherwise would be removing their guests’ “agency” or freedom of choice.
Hopefully, at this point we agree that the logic of “not serving because I don’t agree and don’t want to deny my beliefs” doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t make sense from a personal, religious or business standpoint.
2. “I don’t support that lifestyle. Hence I choose not to photograph or be around it.”
Personally, if I were gay, the most frustrating thing for me to hear would be that this was a “lifestyle” of my choosing when, in fact, it wasn’t. Honestly, if the switch were that easy to turn on and off, wouldn’t it just be far easier to be “happy” by being straight?
The stance of, “I don’t support that lifestyle” is probably the most insensitive and judgmental arguments around. Not only is it insensitive in claiming that this was a conscious decision, but the argument also asserts moral superiority. Because, let’s be honest for a moment; scientifically for the vast majority, being homosexual isn’t a decision. On the other hand, choosing to have premarital sex, drink, break the law, do drugs or any other “sin” is most certainly a lifestyle choice.
So, in terms of lifestyle, the only question is, what lifestyle decisions are you making that are not in line with your religious affiliation?
Let me say that I don’t understand why, nor do I choose to presume, the challenges that we are given in this life. Who knows why we are born the way we are? For lack of a better word, that’s a stupid and pointless conversation. We all have our challenges, and to single out any other group is to ignore yourself and your own ACTUAL lifestyle decisions.
To conclude this argument, if you are a Christian, then I would challenge you to point me to the scripture where it shows Christ denying blessings and service to those that are imperfect. If I am not mistaken, his only requirement was that one have faith/follow him, and the only people he served were those that were imperfect and in need of help (i.e. every one of us is imperfect).
As a Christian, it seems our only responsibility is to love, serve, and be an example. Judgment was never a right or responsibility that was given to us.
3. “I’m uncomfortable working with LGBT couples, do I have the legal right to deny service?”
This is the only argument that I find some sympathy for. To be honest, for me, serving and photographing LGBT clients is no different than any other client. The difference is only and always will be in the photographer’s mind. Yet, there are many individuals out there who are honestly trying to figure things out. They know that they are uncomfortable or lack the skills and ability to shoot an LGBT wedding, so they are looking for legal protection in their ability to deny service.
The courts are probably going to be battling these cases out for the next few years, but here are my thoughts as someone who isn’t a lawyer. Denying service to an individual because of poor hygiene, lack of shirt/shoes, or bad behavior is the right of any business. But, denying service to a class of people has always been held as discrimination. So, as the courts sift through all of these cases, I highly doubt they will stand behind the legal right to deny service to the LGBT community. Of course, you are best seeking the advice of legal council in this matter.
Here’s the thing. If I were gay, and you were uncomfortable photographing a same-sex couple or wedding, I wouldn’t want you to shoot my portraits just as much as you wouldn’t want to shoot my portraits. If you were to kindly tell me, “I respect you and am flattered that you would seek out my services, but I am inexperienced shooting same-sex couples. However, I have some talented photographer friends that would love to photograph your event that I could recommend.”
I would smile, say thank you, and ask for those references. From the many LGBT friends/clients that I have, I am pretty sure they would respond similarly as well. I know plenty of male photographers who choose not to shoot boudoir/maternity simply for the exact same reason. They are uncomfortable and inexperienced with the subject matter. They simply state the honest truth, and refer them to someone who will do the work well. I have never seen one of those photographers turn around and get sued for denial of service.
But, having many gay friends and having served many gay clients, here’s my one council I would give you on this subject: If you can’t respect, love and serve a client as you would every other client, then take a step back, bow out of the conversation/shoot in the manner described above.
Some of you may interpret what I am saying as referring to only same-sex couples. No, I am referring to any client. I have heard photographers speak negatively towards clients of different races, of different religions, towards those that are overweight, or not traditionally as “pretty” as they would have liked. My friend Jerry Ghionis said it best, “Want to be a better photographer? Be a better person.”
So let me say it again: if you can’t respect, love, and serve a client as you would every other client, it’s time to bow out and do some self-reflection. Because the only thing worse than pushing them away would be to take on clients who you don’t love and are unwilling to serve. This brings me to my final point.
The One Law that Does Related to This Circumstance
For Christians, there are no scriptures that teach you to deny support, service, love, or care to those around you. Yet, there are plenty of references to help us know exactly how to deal with each other as people, including right there in the 2nd commandment.
Following the first great commandment to “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…” comes the second, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Believe me when I say that it is awkward for me to quote scripture within the context of a professional article here on SLR Lounge, but I feel like it is necessary for this one specific instance. Because, for some reason, we that claim to be religious (any religion) have the tendency to “pick and choose” our favorite beliefs. We are essentially, “cafeteria believers,” walking down a buffet of religious options, picking and choosing which ones we like best.
Well, here it is, right there in the New Testament as the Second Commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself.
It’s necessary to quote this scripture because it’s necessary to point out that there are no qualifications to that statement. It doesn’t state to love they neighbor if they share the same skin color, have similar beliefs, like the same hobbies…you get my point. It’s plain, it’s simple and it’s straight forward. In my mind, to ignore that commandment is to deny your Christianity before any debate even begins.
Our Studio Philosophy
To conclude, we ensure that all of our photographers in the studio agree with our philosophy that we will love and respect every client equally, period. To love an individual is to respect their choices and freedom of agency. We love our clients equally and we respect their choices to have the freedom to believe and live lives of their choosing in the pursuit of happiness. Just as we would hope that regardless of their beliefs, they love and respect us to do the same.