22 August 2013

Can a wedding photographer be compelled to provide services to a same-sex couple?

Yes, says the New Mexico Supreme Court:
{1} By enacting the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), NMSA 1978, §§ 28-1-1 to -13 (1969, as amended through 2007), the Legislature has made the policy decision to prohibit public accommodations from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. Elane Photography, which does not contest its public accommodation status under the NMHRA, offers wedding photography services to the general public and posts its photographs on a password-protected website for its customers. In this case, Elane Photography refused to photograph a commitment ceremony between two women. The questions presented are (1) whether Elane Photography violated the NMHRA when it refused to photograph the commitment ceremony, and if so, (2) whether this application of the NMHRA violates either the Free Speech or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or (3) whether this application violates the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act (NMRFRA), NMSA 1978, §§ 28-22-1 to -5 (2000). 
{2} First, we conclude that a commercial photography business that offers its services to the public, thereby increasing its visibility to potential clients, is subject to the antidiscrimination provisions of the NMHRA and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.  
{3} Second, we conclude that the NMHRA does not violate free speech guarantees because the NMHRA does not compel Elane Photography to either speak a government mandated message or to publish the speech of another. The purpose of the NMHRA is to ensure that businesses offering services to the general public do not discriminate against protected classes of people, and the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment permits such regulation by states. Businesses that choose to be public accommodations must comply with the NMHRA, although such businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs. They may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable antidiscrimination laws. We also hold that the NMHRA is a neutral law of general applicability, and as such, it does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 
{4} Finally, we hold that the NMRFRA is inapplicable in this case because the government is not a party. For these reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
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