Photographer focus of human rights complaint

The Washington Times reported Monday that a New Mexico photographer is defending herself against a human rights inquiry because she declined to take wedding pics for a lesbian nuptual. Should the photog, Elaine Huguenin, have to do the job?

What if this was a Catholic photographer who refused a Protestant wedding? Or what if it was a polyamorous wedding? What if it was a florist who did not send flowers? Or a caterer? Or what if it was a counselor who did not want to provide pre-marital counseling to a lesbian or gay couple? Or a counselor who did not believe in providing pre-marital counseling to a divorced couple?

Feel free to list other questions and answers. What should the New Mexico HRC decide?

22 thoughts on “Photographer focus of human rights complaint”

  1. Ken,

    I would like to just say that the commission DID find in favor of Willock. The company DID violate New Mexico law.

    As for the “close and personal” friend. I have read the transcript of emails between both parties. Nowhere did Elane offer to help the couple find a more suitable photographer. As a Christian, doesn’t it go against your faith to be a liar? I’m pretty sure it does.

  2. The previous comment was copied and pasted from the BoxTurtle forum…just in case parts or references didnt make sense.

  3. As a close, personal friend of the accused, I know exactly what transpired. Albeit unvalidated on this forum, I can assure you of some of the details. (All of the details will be paraphrased for the trial’s sake, but the general feeling will be intact.) Her response to the request is as mallory previously described. Kind, yet truthful to her thoughts. She declined due to conflict of belief, but did offer to help them find another photographer in the area just as good/if not better. Does that sound homophobic to you? A homophobe would not have wanted to have anymore communication with requester. Yet she was going out of her way to aid them. She simply could not photograph it herself. To my understanding, the conversation was rather short and no proselytizing occurred. As previously mentioned, her website does not blatantly express her religious beliefs, for the express purpose of not wanting to “shove it down people’s throats”.

    Previously posted were comparisons to other services including emergency room physicians. As John just posted, these are unequal comparisons. As a trauma surgery PA, I can assure you that I have treated more LGBT people than most of you have every met. But remember as mallory said, it is not the people Christians are against, its the choices. Very different and distinct things.

    Therefore, I have no trouble treating them as I would treat anyone else, with kindness, compassion, and empathy. If they asked me what I thought of their actions (which some do surprisingly), I take the time to speak with them as long as they wish to listen.

    On the other hand though, I would not photograph one of their weddings. These are not the same because there is a difference between past and present. With my trauma patients, they are not actively engaging in outward activities of their lifestyle choice. If they were to ask me to provide them a condom to have safe sex in the hospital, for may reasons I would decline, one of which being my beliefs. There would be no active role for me in their lifestyle choices. On, the other hand wedding photography is, I feel, a much more intimate field, which requires the photographer be an active part in the process. I feel sorry for anyone who had a wedding photographer who didn’t feel intimately involved with the couple, as this is a large reason for her success: She takes every picture as she would want in her wedding. The lawn service in Texas and e-harmony were mentioned. Put those to the past/present test. Lawn service is silly to not service LGBT people. It is providing no direct support of choices. E-harmony is though. Support the people, dislike the choices. (I do not wish to get into a debate on nature vs nurture here either.)

    And to the responses that said: “she should have said no thanks, and left it at that”. For one, she never planned on having this conversation. Had she planned on it, your could call her a homophobe. Hindsight is 20/20 my friends. Second, have you ever felt so strongly about your convictions that you would regret not speaking what your know to be truth? Honesty, as they say, is always the best policy; to use an old adage. Would her not stating why have made this all go away? Maybe.

    Remember it’s a few isolated cases in America that get laws made. (example: terri schiavo, roe vs wade) How many times do you think those cases occurred prior and after those laws were passed? And yet those people chose to move on and find greener pastures. That alone makes me wonder if they weren’t looking for a fight. But that is merely speculation.

    This indeed is a gray area. The need for laws on this matter is a sad case in my humble opinion. But, unfortunately, we don’t all treat each other with respect and decency that every human deserves. I agree that this has been taken too far by the accuser, as many have posted. But, I am grateful that some resolution will come of this one way or another. I have a feeling (unsubstantiated) that is will continue on to higher powers than New Mexico.

    All this was to shed some more detailed light on a confusing matter. None of what I have said should be taken and written on stone, but should serve as enlightenment into the minds of one side that seem to have poor representation on this forum. For obviously reasons, they themselves will not engage in these debates.

  4. Loud Mouth Broad said in post 90884:

    This complaint is not against an individual, but against a COMPANY.

    According to the article the complaint was filed against both the photographer AND her company.

    The fact is that the photographer would not provide pricing or availability information due to the fact that the couple is gay. That violates the New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

    Actually, it is unclear if what she did is a violation of NM law, that is what the commission is looking into.

  5. 1. This complaint is not against an individual, but against a COMPANY.

    2. Once the photographer identified herself as a COMPANY, civil rights are out the window. She CHOSE to do business in New Mexico, therefore she should have educated herself on New Mexico laws before intentially violating that state’s law. New Mexico DOES have a law that protects homosexuals from discrimation. If a company CHOOSES to conduct business in New Mexico then they must abide by New Mexico laws.

    3. The photographer could have said, “No thanks” . Even, “I’m washing my hair” would have been an adequate response. The fact is that the photographer would not provide pricing or availability information due to the fact that the couple is gay. That violates the New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

    4. Free speech isn’t a viable defense because THE COMPANY wouldn’t be required to upload the photos to the COMPANY website, or display them anywhere. All she would really have to do is provide pricing and availability information to Willock. It’s doubtful that upon meeting Elaine that the lesbian couple would WANT to hire her as a photographer. It’s a matter of discriminatory exclusion, which is ILLEGAL IN NEW MEXICO

  6. Happy Leap Day by the way. I’ve encouraged many people to DL for LD…Dress Loud for Leap Day. February is often the bleakest month weatherwise and this February gets an extra day so–why not shout it down with a dramatic one-day change in wardrobe.

    Anyway, Warren, my impression is that we’re not supposed to discuss conversations from another blog; does that mean that we can’t discuss the main topic from another blog? I went to BoxTurtle and the linked piece is by Timothy. IMHO, except for one paragraph, it is fair, balanced and insightful…some ideas that I think we’d all appreciate in this conversation.

  7. There is an interesting write-up and a bit more information regarding this story over at the Box Turtle Bulletin site:

    Photographer Story

    Ken and Karen – thank you both for those questions. I hadn’t actually considered many of them.

  8. Ken, I’ve been thinking along the same lines as you with some similar questions. But I’ve been framing them from some of my own experience or potential experience. I don’t see photography as an essential service that would qualify as public accommodation, but more as an artistic endeavor. (That apparently will be part of the argument her legal team uses.)

    One of my hobbies is jewelry making, an avocation that I hope will provide some income in my retirement in a few years, and I’m in the process of designing a line of “wedding” jewelry. Now, if I sell a piece on eBay or in a retail outlet, I have no control – nor should I – over who purchases and uses it.

    But let’s say that I accept commissions. As an artist, do I have the right to turn down a commission for any reason? I think I do. And I would have a difficult (though maybe not impossible) time doing a piece for a lesbian union service. If it was for another reason – even one woman giving a loving gift to her partner – that wouldn’t be such an issue for me. But a union service crosses an ethical and moral line where I can’t go.

    In similar fashion, I wouldn’t accept a commission to make a piece for a Wiccan union service. (Nor would I agree to make a general pagan piece – using goddess imagery, for example.) And I can easily imagine a place and time where someone offended by that would consider it religious discrimination and file a human rights inquiry against me.

    So, there are two basic questions for me. What are essential goods and services and what rights does the artist have over production and distribution of them? But more broadly in this case, what is the most effective and faithful Christian witness?

    I don’t have solid answers to either of them, but they’re interesting to ponder.

  9. Ken–

    Those are excellent questions. I’m wondering if ‘licensing’ would be a key issue. Any profession requiring a license has some standards that go along with the license.

    And, LOL, that’s not intended to be an answer. It’s just one thought that came to me after reading your questions. I’m not sure if it holds any water and I’m also not sure that there aren’t other criteria that would likewise make a difference.

  10. So this case brings up a lot of interesting issues. What is the scope of “public accommodation” ? Does it include services offered to the public (which is what the photographer was offering)? Consider this before answering, does the type of service matter? What if this person didn’t offer photographic services by instead offered medical services, ex. what if she was a physical therapist or dr. in a private practice? If the type of service does matter, what criteria should be used in determining what services are or are not included under the law?

    What if the issue wasn’t orientation but another protected class? What if she refused because the couple was Jewish or Muslim? Or hispanic? Or iraqi etc? Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people who would say she was wrong if it was about some of these issues but not others.

    A final issue I’d like to bring up is that based on the article it was the photographer who made this about the couples’ sexual orientation. Why didn’t she simply say “I’m sorry, I can’t take the job.”? Based on the reports, it was she who said she wouldn’t work with them because they were gay. Although, I do realize there may be more to it (ex. the couple may have pressed for a reason and that isn’t being reported).

  11. It’s early and this isn’t well thought out, but after further thought and prayer … even though I don’t think the HRC can’t make a case, I’m not convinced the photographer “did the right thing” as a Christian if she turned down the assignment out of prejudice – solely because the women were lesbians.

    If she declined because the event was a “nuptial,” then I feel she had strong moral grounds – not desiring to endorse the ceremony in any way. And maybe she had valid ethical reasons as well, as I don’t think same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. (Someone correct me if I’m mistaken on that.)

    But I wonder, what if it were a birthday party or some other family event? Where and how does a Christian draw the line with integrity? Especially when he or she has a mandate to be “in but not of the world?”

    Warren, you sure do find some interesting stuff to post and blog about.

  12. I know in restaurants they usually have a sign that says “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” and that makes sense to me.

  13. I agree, Karen. And she did not prevent the couple from seeking other services nor impeded them at all. She did not show up at the service and walk away – abandoning a contract to perform a service. She declined the work before any contract was entered in to because it is not in her field of interest or of expertise. Two lesbians got their feelings hurt and decided to make a frivolous noise over this calling it unlawful discrimination. There is such a thing as lawful discrimination. We can say no. Everyone in sales understands this. Sometimes we say no to a client because we cannot perform the task or offer the service they want.

  14. After I posted my first comment, I did a bit more thinking. What exactly does “public accommodation” mean? Is there a standard legal definition? I tend to think of it as hotels, restaurants, etc. that offer what I would consider essential services. I would assume that a person offering non-essential services could turn down assignments or clients for whatever reason, advertising notwithstanding. I saw it happen in the business world all the time.

  15. That’s a good point Ann. I get angry at one of our local radio stations that constantly advertises a single’s group for everyone when, in fact, it’s for straights only. I keep wanting some gay person to take them to court. I did make a call a few years back (it may have been this station or another one) inquiring if it helped gays match up and they said ‘no’. I asked why then did they advertise it was for ‘everyone’. The confused answer was that they didn’t want to embarrass gays by saying it wasn’t for them. I challenged that it was a worse message to tell gays that they weren’t a part of ‘everyone’.

    So, I agree that the nature and the wording of her advertising could make her liable…perhaps not to a human rights complaint but to something under the auspices of false or misleading advertising.

    And, personally, if her reasons for not taking the pictures is her Christian beliefs, I’d want to question her as to whether she objected to photographing straight couples who had been ‘living in sin’ or were divorced a few times. No litigation there–just a hypocrisy checkup.

  16. could there be some accountability if this photographer advertised for clients rather than having the couple solicit her? If she advertised and this couple responded to that solicitation, then that might be considered discrimmination because the advertisement did not indicate any exclusions.

  17. Just last week we had another story of a female Catholic school teacher, who although she signed agreements re moral purity, is now suing because the school asked her to resign because she is unmarried and pregnant. I haven’t heard anything for the past few days so I don’t know how this is playing out.

    The sound bites from the first report were portraying ‘this poor pregnant woman who unexpectedly finds herself jobless’; they portray her as a ‘good teacher, loved by the students’. But I heard little about what she’d be teaching everyday as she entered the classroom with her ballooning stomach.

    If it were a public school, I’d be denouncing the hypocrites who tried to take her job away. But it’s not. It’s a Catholic School–a private school–a school that gave up significant public support so that it could be free to teach Catholic values. It’s a place of employment that was upfront from the beginning with its moral expectations and she signed the agreement.

    It differs from this situation though, as Karen pointed out in the question she posed in the first comment. I guess the tie-in is how much of the decision making will be based on fact and how much will be based on emotional response. In the past, I always trusted that the facts would win out; anymore I’m not so sure.

  18. Warren,

    Sorry for all the posts – something I’ve noticed and that a friend of mine reiterated to me, is that so far, the only place this story has found a home is on anti-gay web sites and that includes the Washington Times. That does make me raise an eyebrow.

  19. I am really upset by this though – especially as a supporter of these laws. I’m also noticing that all the conservative blog/sites are throwing up this story almost in a SEE, We told you this would happen sort of way – not that I really blame them at this point. Again, though, I’m hoping this woman is allowed to run her business as she sees fit and that this law is vindicated.

  20. From what I understand the Bureau is simply listening to the complaint, right? The poor woman and her business that have been caught up in this haven’t been charged with anything.

    I see this as one of those unfortunate cases that will probably have to be had in order to flesh out the parameters of this law. I CANNOT imagine that the woman will be found guilty of anything – at least I hope not.

  21. From the Washington Times article … “The bureau accepts and investigates claims of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, ancestry, sex, age, physical and mental handicap, serious medical condition, disability, spousal affiliation, sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, credit or public accommodation,” she said.

    Since when does photographic services fall under any of the four above mentioned “areas” of monitoring?

Comments are closed.