Stephen Richer '15 on Elane Photography v. Willock

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling May Polarize the Marriage Equality Debate

On August 22, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the freedom of religion. The case,Elane Photography v. Willock, pitted Christian professional photographer Elaine Huguenin against Vanessa Willock and her same-sex partner. When Willock asked Huguenin to photograph her same-sex commitment ceremony, Huguenin declined, stating that the assignment would conflict with her Christian beliefs. The trial court ruled that Huguenin violated the state's Human Rights Act and fined her $7,000. The appeals court affirmed. So did the New Mexico Supreme Court [PDF], unanimously, on August 22.

There are many disturbing aspects of this decision: it cuts against free religious practice (the main argument made by lead defense counsel Alliance Defending Freedom); it compels speech (the argument made by Eugene Volokh, Dale Carpenter and the Cato Institute, an organization that supports gay rights and marriage equality); and it reinforces the simple but toxic idea that private businesses can't actually make private decisions.

In addition to the anti-freedom consequences above, the decision also promises to hurt the gay-equality movement. This seems counterintuitive at first as the gay plaintiff won the case, but it doesn't take a novel theory to realize how such a ruling could damage the movement.

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