Supreme Court Won’t Hear Photographer Discrimination Case

by HRC Staff

New Mexico Supreme Court ruling remains in place: No religious business owner exemption to state LGBT non-discrimination laws

WASHINGTON – Today the Supreme Court of the United States announced without comment that it won’t hear the case of a New Mexico photography business which claimed its rights were violated when the owner refused to photograph a same-sex wedding and was found in violation of the state’s nondiscrimination law.  Owners of Elane Photography said they refused to take the job because it violated their religious beliefs. 

“The Supreme Court of the United States today has paved the way for robust enforcement of non-discrimination laws,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.  “When businesses open their doors to the public, they must abide by the law and not expect special treatment based on personal beliefs.”

Elane Photography refused to shoot the wedding ceremony of Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth in 2006.  After being found in violation of New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the studio filed a lawsuit in state court, saying serving the couple with regards to wedding related services violated their religious beliefs and their action was protected under the First Amendment.  The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that there was no right to violate the state non-discrimination law.  The photography studio appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which has declined to hear the case.

Americans overwhelmingly believe that businesses should not be able to deny services to someone because they’re gay or lesbian:

  • According to a poll by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign 69 percent of Americans don’t think a business owner should be allowed to refuse to provide products or services to an individual because that person is gay or lesbian, compared to an incredibly small 15% that do. And when asked about small business owners in particular, a full 68% of Americans don’t think they should be able to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. This supermajority included 55% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, 67% of people without college degrees, and 68% of Christians.
  • When asked specifically about wedding-related services, like catering, flowers, or cakes, being provided by small businesses, 64% of voters were still opposed to new laws that would allow small businesses to deny wedding-related services based on their religious beliefs, compared to 31% in favor.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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