Washington • The Supreme Court declined on Monday to consider whether a New Mexico photographer had a free-speech right to refuse service to a same-sex couple who wanted her to record their commitment ceremony.
Without comment, the court said it would not review a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court that the denial of service violated the state’s public accommodations law, which bans discrimination by those offering their services to the public.
The New Mexico decision had prompted some states, such as Arizona, to propose laws that would protect companies and individuals who say providing some services to same-sex couples would violate their religious beliefs.
The case at the court came from Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, whose company, Elane Photography, refused service for the 2007 commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple, Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth.
The Huguenins said they would “gladly serve gays and lesbians” by taking portraits. But photographing same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies would “require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs,” according to their petition to the court.
The state human rights commission found that the Huguenins violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act, and the state supreme court unanimously upheld the decision.
“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,” the court said.
In their petition, the Huguenins and lawyer Jordan W. Lorence of the Alliance Defending Freedom mentioned religion frequently. But their plea did not cite constitutional protection of their right to freely exercise their religion. Instead, they rely on another part of the First Amendment: their right to free speech.
Elaine Huguenin’s work is artistic expression, the petition said, and she cannot be forced to “communicate messages antithethical to her religious beliefs . . . through government coercion.”
Tobias B. Wolff, a University of Pennsylvania law professor representing Willock, pointed out in his brief that the Huguenins acknowledge that courts are not split on the questions they raised, normally a prerequisite for Supreme Court action. He said the issue is a simple one: “Whatever service you provide, you must not discriminate against customers when you engage in public commerce.”