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Traditional marriage plea heads to Court

An Albuquerque couple who operate their commercial photography business on Christian religious principles will ask the Supreme Court to give them constitutional protection for their views favoring traditional marriage, their lawyers said on Wednesday.  The case, if accepted by the Court, would give the Justices a chance to sort out how gay rights laws passed by states are enforced against those who hold the view that marriage is only for a man and a woman.

Although the case does not involve state authority to allow or deny same-sex marriage, it could be the first new case related to that issue to reach the Court since its first foray into that constitutional controversy last Term.

The case, from the New Mexico Supreme Court, is Elane Photography v. Willock.  This blog discussed the state court’s decision as part of a longer post dealing with religious issues likely to reach the Justices in the new Term.  The petition in the case is due at the Supreme Court by late November, according to attorneys with the advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom.

New Mexico is a state that, so far, is neutral on the question of same-sex marriage.  It neither allows such marriages, nor prohibits them.   But, since the Supreme Court’s June decisions, New Mexico has become the most active state testing how those decisions may — or may not — affect states’ control of marriage rights.

Two state judges in the state have taken the Supreme Court decisions as a lead to allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses, and scores of such licenses have been issued in recent weeks in at least three counties.   The issue is headed for the state supreme court.

In the Elane Photography case being readied for a U.S. Supreme Court appeal, the lawyers for the couple have been stressing that they are not hostile to homosexuals, but are opposed to accepting business involving photographs of same-sex marriage ceremonies because of their religious views.

The couple, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, have summed up their views on the issue in this statement, excerpted from a legal brief in the state supreme court:

“Jonathan and Elaine are Christians, and as such, they believe the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.  They also believe that preserving marriage as the union of a man and a woman is ‘the best way to order society.’  Thus while the company wants to create photographs that tell the stories of weddings between a ‘bride and groom’, its policies prohibit creating images that convey an understanding of marriage that conflicts with Jonathan and Elaine’s beliefs.   Jonathan and Elaine believe that if they were to convey a contrary message about marriage, they would be disobeying God.

“Elane Photography does not refuse customers because of their sexual orientation.  Crucial to the company is the message conveyed through its photographs, not the sexual orientation of its customers. Therefore Elaine will not create photographs of heterosexual polygamous weddings just the same as she will not create photographs of same-sex ceremonies.  And she will decline to create photographs telling the story of a same-sex commitment ceremony even if the ceremony was part of a movie and the actors playing the same-sex couple were heterosexual.   On the other hand, Elaine will create portrait photographs for and provide other services to people who identify as homosexual so long as the message communicated through her pictures does not conflict with her beliefs about marriage.”

Their planned petition to the Supreme Court will seek to convince the Justices that their photographic work is a form of artistic expression that conveys messages, and it will argue that enforcing the New Mexico “public accommodation” law in ways contrary to their views compels them to express messages they do not embrace and interferes with the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The state law at issue in the case bars discrimination against sexual orientation in providing access to businesses that are open to the public in general.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Traditional marriage plea heads to Court, SCOTUSblog (Sep. 11, 2013, 8:03 PM),