Jon and Elaine Huguenin
If pictures are worth a thousand words, do photographers have the right to determine the message that they communicate?
In 2006, Elaine Huguenin, a wedding photographer in New Mexico, received an inquiry from Vanessa Wilcox to photograph her same-sex commitment ceremony. Elaine respectfully declined. She and her husband, Jonathan, couldn’t in good conscience use their artistic talents to tell the story of a ceremony that conflicts with their faith. Ms. Willock found another photographer, but nevertheless filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.
The Huguenins started calling lawyers, and Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom was the first to respond. He told them that Alliance Defending Freedom would take their case and provide free legal services, but they were in for a long, hard haul. “This could be big, guys,” he told them. “Are you prepared for that?”
Jonathan and Elaine committed to seeing the case through, even after they found out Elaine was pregnant. Despite the stress of media attention, hate mail, and even threats, the Huguenins believe this happened to them for a reason. “It’s been a trial, literally and figuratively,” Elaine said. “It’s been something that has brought us a lot closer to God. Although nobody in their right mind would ask for a trial, the fact that we’ve been able to grow through this has been really… encouraging.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on August 22, 2013 against Jonathan and Elaine. One of the justices said that the Huguenins are “now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” and he declared that this compulsion “is the price of citizenship.”
On November 8, 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. Although the Supreme Court reviewed this request at three of its conferences, it declined to review the case on April 7, 2014.
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Elane Photography v. Willock
What's at stake
- The ability of business owners and artistic professionals to express themselves without the government forcing them to express views with which they disagree.
- The freedom of business owners and artistic professionals to decline to create expression that violates their religious beliefs without being punished by the government.
Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, declined to photograph Vanessa Willock’s same-sex commitment ceremony because the Huguenins could not in good conscience tell the story of a ceremony that defined marriage as something other than the union of one man and one woman. Ms. Willock was able to find another photographer at a cheaper rate, but that was not enough. Ms. Willock filed a complaint against Elaine and Jonathan’s company, Elane Photography. In response, Elaine and Jonathan called Alliance Defending Freedom and asked for help.
The New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled against the Huguenins, finding that they had engage in unlawful discrimination in violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The Commission ordered the Huguenins to pay Ms. Willock’s attorneys’ fees. Two state courts upheld the ruling. Alliance Defending Freedom then took the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled against the Huguenins and rejected their constitutional and religious liberty claims. In a concurring opinion, one of the justices stated that violating their religious beliefs is “the price of citizenship” for the Huguenins.
Alliance Defending Freedom asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, but the Court denied review on April 7, 2014.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represented Elane Photography and defended Elaine and Jonathan’s freedom to decide which ideas they express with their photographic talents.