Supreme Court declines to hear appeal in N.M. photographer's quest to discriminate

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The Supreme Court won't hear the case involving the N.M. photographer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the appeal of a New Mexico photography business that sought to discriminate against a same-sex couple because of religious beliefs.

The court decision means that the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling against the photography business stands.

The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the photography business, owned by opponents of same-sex marriage, violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to take pictures of a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony.

The state's highest court said the business's refusal in 2006 to photograph the ceremony involving two women violated New Mexico's Human Rights Act "in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."

Elaine Huguenin, who owns Elane Photography with her husband and is the business's principal photographer, refused to photograph the ceremony because, she said, it violated her religious beliefs.

The court rejected arguments that the anti-discrimination law violated the photographer's right to free speech and the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Jordan Lorence of the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom, after the state ruling, took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the justices declined to take the case.

"No court has ever held that businesses have a First Amendment right to discriminate, and it is no surprise that the Supreme Court has denied this attempt to overturn settled law," said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. "Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer's marriage. The business is simply providing a commercial service. Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules to protect customers from discrimination in the marketplace."

“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."

The issues in the New Mexico case are similar to those being debated as states this legislative season consider legislation that would allow businesses to discriminate based on owners' religious beliefs.

Polls show that a majority of U.S. voters do not support allowing such discrimination. A poll for HRC found that 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 15 percent that do.

When asked about small business owners, 68 percent of Americans don’t think they should be able to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs.