In 2006, Vanessa Willock e-mailed Elane Photography about photographing a “commitment ceremony” that she and her partner were planning. Willock said that this would be a “same-gender ceremony.” Elane Photography responded that it photographed “traditional weddings.” The Huguenins [the photographers] are Christians who, for religious reasons, disapprove of same-sex unions. Willock sent a second e-mail asking whether this meant that the company “does not offer photography services to same-sex couples.” Elane Photography responded that “you are correct.”
Willock could then have said regarding Elane Photography what many same-sex couples have long hoped a tolerant society would say regarding them — “live and let live.” Willock could have hired a photographer with no objections to such events. Instead, Willock and her partner set out to break the Huguenins to the state’s saddle.
Willock’s partner, without disclosing her relationship with Willock, e-mailed Elane Photography. She said that she was getting married — actually, she and Willock were having a “commitment ceremony” because New Mexico does not recognize same-sex marriages — and asked whether the company would travel to photograph it. The company said yes. Willock’s partner never responded.
Instead, Willock, spoiling for a fight, filed a discrimination claim with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, charging that Elane Photography is a “public accommodation,” akin to a hotel or restaurant, that denied her its services because of her sexual orientation. The commission found against Elane and ordered it to pay $6,600 in attorney fees.
Noting that this web of “conflicting rights” grows more tangled, Will asks the question, “In jurisdictions … which ban discrimination on the basis of political affiliation or ideology, would a photographer, even a Jewish photographer, be compelled to record a Nazi Party ceremony?”