Free to Believe

Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin

Elane Photography: Albuquerque, New Mexico

In 2008, a New Mexico couple identifying themselves as lesbian tried to hire Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, co-owners of the Albuquerque business Elane Photography, to shoot their wedding. The Huguenins declined to do so because the ceremony violated their moral beliefs. The women found another photographer, but alleged discrimination and filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Division. They asked the commission to issue an injunction that would ban the company from ever rejecting a contract based on a client's sexual preferences. 

On April 9, 2008, the commission charged Elane Photography with "sexual orientation discrimination" and ordered the couple to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys' fees to the lesbians who filed the suit.  The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), who represented the photographers, called the ruling "a stunning disregard" of the First Amendment.  Together with the couple, ADF appealed the decision. 

But in 2009, a trial judge sided with the Human Rights Commission's finding and on June 4, 2012, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the Commission's decision on the grounds of the state's Human Rights Act. For ADF attorney Jordan Lorence, these rulings have shown a stunning disregard of Jon and Elaine's First Amendment rights. In a press release, Lorence made the following statement, "Should the government force a videographer who is an animal rights activist to create a video promoting hunting and taxidermy?  Of course not, and neither should the government force this photographer to promote a message that violates her conscience."

The New Mexico Supreme Court also upheld the ruling and one of the justices wrote that the Huguenins "now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives," adding "it is the price of citizenship." On April 7, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Elane Photography v. Willock, ignoring an important opportunity to reaffirm the basic principle that the government can't trample on fundamental rights of free speech and religion. The Supreme Court's decision to decline the case left the New Mexico government's punishment intact and the problem of compelled speech unresolved.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

Related Content