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The Corner

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Freedom of Association, Out of Focus in N.M.



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A New Mexico appeals court ruled recently that one’s Christian faith is an insufficient reason to decline business that violates one’s religious views.

In 2006, Vanessa Willock contacted Elaine Photography and asked if its owners, Elaine and John Huguenin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, would take pictures at the commitment ceremony of Willock and her lesbian partner. The Huguenins said no, citing their spiritual beliefs, which regard homosexuality as unholy.

Willock filed a discrimination complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. In 2008, it convicted the Huguenins of sexual-orientation discrimination and ordered them to pay Willock $6,639.94 in legal fees. A trial judge upheld this decision, as did the New Mexico Court of Appeals just days ago. It declared that Elaine Photography is a public accommodation and, as such, its owners “must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed upon the conduct of their commercial enterprise despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with these governmental interests.”

One need not be religious or straight to see the huge problem that this absurd ruling creates.

Suppose Bob and Steve, a gay couple, launch a photography service to take pictures at gay weddings. One day, Jack and Jill show up and ask if Bob and Steve will take photos at their straight wedding. Uh-oh! If Bob and Steve say no, then they will be guilty of sexual-orientation discrimination.

The First Amendment includes the freedom of association. Americans are free to associate with and without whom we wish, for whatever reason we like. Or at least we should be. Only the government must treat us with “equal justice under law,” as reads the chiseled stone above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court. A state-run photography service (assuming there were a need for such an enterprise, which there is not) would have to treat citizens equally, regardless of their sexuality. A complaint against such a government-owned photo company for not taking pictures at a gay wedding would be perfectly valid.

However, government should not compel straight photographers in the private sector to take pictures of gay people any more than the state should force gay people to photograph straight folks. Similarly, a vegan photographer should be perfectly free to refuse service to confirmed carnivores seeking someone to snap pictures at an outdoor pig roast and barbecue.

As for these lesbians, you would think that they would want to hire photographers who would be thrilled and excited to take pictures at their ceremony, rather than do so grudgingly and with the government’s boot on their lenses.

This makes for bad photography and even worse public policy.



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