Supreme Court Won’t Hear an Appeal from Wedding Photog in Same-Sex Dispute


A widely-reported legal case involving a same-sex couple and the photography studio that refused to shoot their wedding reached its conclusion earlier today when the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, putting an end to nearly eight years of litigation.

The dispute began in 2006 when photographers Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin told same-sex couple Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth that they only covered ‘traditional weddings.’

Willock and Collinsworth were able to find someone else easily, but the incident prompted Willock to file a complaint against Elane Photography with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, claiming that the studio’s policy violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.


Since then the case has made its way up the ladder of courts within New Mexico, each ruling going in favor of Willock and Collinsworth until, finally, Elane Photography was forced to file an appeal with the Supreme Court itself.

The Huguenins’ argument maintained that choosing not to photograph same-sex couples was an expression of their freedom of speech; however, the state’s courts have decided it was no different than if they had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different race.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to rule in this case leaves standing the decision by the state’s highest court, putting a legal period at the end of this particular story without giving law makers from several states the ‘legal guidance’ they were hoping this precedence setting-case would give them had it been taken on by the SCOTUS.

(via USA Today)

Image credits: Photographs by Bruce Ellefson, Alliance Defending Freedom.

  • from across the pond

    Well, even SCOTUS can’t f**k up every single decision…

  • Mesca

    Solution is rather simple, if you dont want to shoot similar case wedding, dont say why. :)

  • New Mexico Photog

    What bothers me the most is at the time gay marriage was not recognized as legal in New Mexico – so the state could refuse to acknowledge benefits for same sex couples, deny licenses for marriage and a whole host of other things – but the courts ruled that a private citizen could not invoke their rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

  • Michael Turcotte

    Actually because of this case, it was discovered that same sex marriage was always legal in New Mexico.

  • Paige Graham

    Freedom of speech and religion don’t give you cart blanche to discriminate. Those two rights happen to encompass only that no infringe upon you practicing those two things. The same sex couple did not interfere with their ability to worship or produce art/speak freely. Pull your heads out of your butts and take a constitutional law class.

  • TheOneTrueKing

    This was stupid to begin with. They should’ve just said they were booked and went along their merry bigot life. When you try to use your religion as an excuse for bigot business decisions expect it to come back to burn to you in some way or another.

    If Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin were true to using their religious beliefs when it came to all of their clients I would probably understand, even if I thought it was wrong of them to do so; but they didn’t. Nor would they have been in business long either.

    Have you had sex before marriage? Do you currently live together? Do you have any tattoos? — If you have answered yes to any of these questions we can not document your day based on religious grounds.

  • Cristina Ciocan

    Soo if I just shoot women and a man comes to my studio demanding a photoshoot will he sue me? FFS

  • TheOneTrueKing

    If it was for religious reasons, yes! Other wise, most men would just move on if you told them that or you can look at it as chance to do something different.

    IMO if the man has money for the shoot would really tell him no? If he wanted to be bra and panties, charge him double.

  • Mike

    Excuse me but a business has a right to choose who they want to do business with. If this couple knew that they only shot traditional weddings why would they go in there? I believe it was to try and expose these photographers as bigots. I can go to a nightclub wearing a hoodie but will be refused entry because of a dress code, but I can certainly sue them or complain that it was discrimination.

  • Angelgreg

    I’m booked that weekend. We have to re-arrange our sock drawers, sorry.

  • OtterMatt

    Oh? And how was that “discovered”? The word I think you’re looking for is “interpreted”, which is exactly how all these cases seem to be rounded up lately; with judges interpreting the law in any twisted way they can to justify an agenda.

  • sallvattore

    I will take pictures to who the f**k I want…. There is no law in this universe to force who I want to take pictures of…

  • Cao

    I’m a strong supporter of the LGBT community, but as I support their
    decisions to be with and marry whoever they want, they should also
    accept that as a private business firm you too have the right to deny
    offering services based on whatever reasons one can come up with, from
    aesthetics to whatever misguided religious beliefs one might have. I, as
    someone that offers services, of any kind, should not be obligated in
    any way to put myself in uncomfortable situations. It infringes on the
    same freedom that the LGBT community is fighting for. The court was smart not tackling this.

  • Bryan House

    One sided pricks… your same argument for has just as much right as against. In either direction. choosing who you want to work with is a right crying about being accepted because you want to be different grow up. accept people don’t have to kiss your ass because you feel the NEED to be different chock on one or strap it on and move on we have just as much right to be offended or disgusted by YOUR actions as you do ours. I have plenty gay friends and coworkers give others just as much free choice as you demand…period

  • OtterMatt

    This is utterly asinine. How many ways am I offended by this? Let me count the ways:

    1) I don’t know how the Supreme Court can justify their salaries if they can just refuse to hear a freedom of speech case of national import. The entire case has ridden on the meaning of the Constitutional right to free speech. Isn’t that, like, their ENTIRE job? Or should they focus on whether produce is a fruit or vegetable?
    2) To all the people who think freedom of speech doesn’t include discrimination: how the hell does it NOT protect that? Who, exactly, is being harmed? Photography, after all, is SUCH a basic human right. And it’s not like they couldn’t get another shooter, either. If all opinions aren’t covered by the 1st Amendment, including hateful, unpopular, bigoted, ignorant—or any other hyperbolic adjective you want to use—then what is? Why does it exist? Who thinks we need to protect safe, sheltered, politically-over-correct speech?
    3) Lots of people seem to determine that businesses shouldn’t have personal rights. Well, guess what: those people in that photo are not businesses, they’re people. They’re not publicly traded, they don’t answer to a board of directors, and they don’t share the fruits of their labors with anyone else, because they earn them. I don’t lose my rights just because I walk into an office. Why does my boss lose his?

    No matter how you slice it, this is and has always been about coercion and privilege. Photography is not a God-given (or anything-else-given, either) right, neither is it a human right or matter of dignity to obtain service from a non-essential industry. You don’t HAVE the right to be seen as an equal by everyone you come into contact with.
    What you do have the right to is to decide for yourself who you will spend your time with and what you will spend your dollars on. Used to be you also had the right to believe what you wanted to believe and peacefully manage your life according to the principles you thought best. Oh, how the times have changed.

  • Fed Up

    So despite them being pretty high up on the list, I guess freedom of religion and freedom of speech just aren’t recognizable amendments anymore? It’s so easy for people to get caught up in being politically correct and trying not to bruise any egos that freedom just isn’t something America promises anymore. If someone refuses you service, that’s their prerogative – who cares? Your dollar weighs just as much as anyone else’s…so go give it to someone you want to succeed and the business that rejected you will ultimately suffer. There isn’t a law that says gay people can’t have photographers at weddings, However, there IS a law that says people have to freedom to express free speech without recoil…however that has clearly been taken from these people. It’s not the job of the government to punish people for their ignorance, and this couple going to such lengths just to prove a point of “I’m right, you’re wrong because Uncle Same says so,” really just points to their own ignorance and vindictive nature.

  • wickerprints

    No, businesses do not have such a right, no more than a restaurant can say that they will only serve white people. Your argument falls flat–saying that “if this couple knew that they only shot ‘traditional’ weddings…” is basically a weak attempt at trying to deflect the blame onto the plaintiffs. The point is that a same-sex couple should not have to look through a photographer’s portfolio and have to worry about if they’re going to be turned away, no more than a black person should have to worry about not being served food when they choose which place to eat at. They should, like any other couple, be able to choose a photographer based on their actual photographic ability and the merits of doing business with them. Isn’t that what all you photographers have been complaining about for years? To be chosen for the quality of your work?

  • David Liang

    Until you’re in the business of taking pictures, of which many laws will then apply to your actions conducting such business.

  • wickerprints

    Really? So you’re okay with photographers saying they will only photograph white couples? That’s acceptable to you, to have a society where any business can deny serving you food or drink because you’re the wrong skin color, or wrong religion, or wrong gender? You might want to rethink just how “strong” of a supporter of equality you really are.

  • danfoy

    Your analogy only makes superficial sense. The nightclub could refuse you entry because you chose to wear a hoodie, but they couldn’t bar you for being gay (or black, or Jewish, etc.) Furthermore you could return without the hoodie and be allowed in – it’s a personal choice you’ve made, not something that you were born with.

  • mthouston


    SECTION 1.

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Some more reading

    Limits of Religious Freedom

  • David Liang

    By that rationale it’s not discrimination to deny a taking a persons photo because you think they’re ugly? Because you object to their race? I’m not saying the law won’t put you in an uncomfortable situation if you actually object to those things. But freedom protections work both ways and as a society we need to tactfully handle situations where the law overlaps and both or either parties will be both represented and punished by the laws we accept as a social contract.

  • skurge2144

    I’ve shot 2 same-sex weddings.
    People, listen to me, gay money is just as green as straight money! ¬¬

  • Jacqueline Dessel

    I am a photographer and while I would happily photograph a wedding regardless of who the couple was, if I felt that I was being asked to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, I would simply try to have some class and basic human decency and say I was booked already. It’s not rocket science, and you as a business owner are not some “victim”. You can go about your business the way you wish and discriminate if you, sadly, feel the need to discriminate against other people but you can also do it in a way that doesn’t make you look like a pompous bigot. And if you really need to take that route, of course you can expect to be called out on it. Freedom of speech doesn’t exempt you from the consequences of that speech.

  • mthouston

    And what agenda would that be?

  • Cassandra Mooney

    Right…becasue ‘hoodie wearers’ are not a federally protected class um, not a valid argument. #whtayearisitagain?

  • Adam Cross

    sorry but businesses don’t have the right to discriminate on religious or “traditional” personal values. The same as if a restaurant refused to serve a gay couple, or if they refused to serve someone because they weren’t Christians, or if they weren’t white. You don’t get to make that choice as a business. The law does not allow for such prejudice and discrimination. Imagine if you went to get your car fixed and they noticed you had a Gay Pride sticker in your window and refused to fix your car because they only approve of “traditional” relationships? You would sue their asses off and expect that a judge would hear your case. You either provide your service to everyone, or you don’t provide a service at all. It’s that simple

  • Me

    Bigots should go back to where they came from.

  • Me

    > I believe it was to try and expose these photographers as bigots.

    If the shoe fits.

  • Rob Elliott

    A Photography studio that shoots events but doesn’t do weddings can say no to weddings.

    If you shoot weddings and someone says he we want you to shoot our wedding, and you flat out say no I don’t like your religious denomination or Sexual orientation then you are discriminating.

    Unless they can claim that even associating with Homosexuals violates their religion in some way, they can’t refuse on those grounds

    There was a case in Toronto not too long ago where a lesbian walked in to a Muslim owned Barbershop that specialized in male hair cuts… it was a fully traditional Barbershop one of the oldest in the city. They said they really couldn’t cut her hair, their religious values said the can’t have physical contact with a female not directly related to them. (a overly conservative interpretation perhaps but a directly religious purpose)

    She went to the Ontario Human Right Commission and basically because there was another shop a few blocks away and she expressly wanted a man’s hair cut, that their religious expression trump her right to service as she could go else where to get service but couldn’t transform into a man to accommodate theirs. (My comment not the courts) iirc they Human Rights Commission wouldn’t even hear the case.

    Now Canada is different.. but the basic rational is the same.

  • Cao

    Actually I’m fairly sure that there are many photographers that only photograph white people, but that’s beside the point. I don’t honestly think they should, but they should have the right to, in the end all they do is hurt their own business. My point is also about the individual services one can provide and not any 2+ people businesses out there. A restaurant, as do their employees, should not have the right to deny serving food to anyone, even if they do it regularly based on clothes/etc. But if you as an individual find yourself in the position to freelance as a… bartender, for example, and for whatever reason you’re uncomfortable about the situation you should have the right to quit doing the job.

  • OtterMatt

    How good for you and your conscience. So, do you feel that people should be REQUIRED, no less, to offend their own consciences? If so, that’s the basest of hypocrisies that exists.

  • Me

    I’m going to claim that my religion involves going around punching bigots in the scrotum.

  • OtterMatt

    “The consequeces of that speech” should, under any logical and rational system, be the loss of business. It should NOT be being legally forced to take on MORE business, just so an offended person can rub someone else’s face in it.

  • danfoy

    I can’t work out if you’ve mid-read my comment, your sarcasm is backfiring, or if you really think that hoodiephobia is a genuine concern with the same weight as homophobia or racism.

  • skurge2144

    No. I don’t. Not required. Laws shouldn’t force you to do anything against your own will or beliefs. Sadly, we don’t live in a world where that statement is true. Not all laws are correct or just. But they are LAWS, and if the law in New Mexico says it is illegal to discriminate someone based on religion, sexual preference, then as a business you should be aware of that and not get yourself caught up in those court matters.

    Here’s an easy fix for the ENTIRE situation: the photographers should have lied to them, ‘sorry we are already booked for that day but we can recommend you to some wonderful friends of ours/another company’. I’m pretty sure Jesus would have forgiven them for that little white lie. ;)

  • Rob Elliott

    I support a freelancers right to decide what jobs they take, and I support the LGBT communities right not to be discriminated against.

    This Photography studio being honest was the reason this had happened.

    If you say no to a Muslim Hindu Wedding, Bat Mitzvah, Wiccan Festival you can say I’m happy to do it, but I don’t have enough knowledge of the service/event to really do it justice and want you to get the best images possible. If they still want you, you do it.

    If you say no flat out based on only doing “traditional” weddings that is direct discrimination.. it’s hard to side with the photographers in this case.

  • OtterMatt

    Yeah, isn’t strawman-baiting fun? It certainly doesn’t require much in the way of brain cells, thankfully for you.
    Aside from the horrific indignity of finding out that someone else doesn’t agree with the way you live your life (there are not sarcasm tags big enough in all the world), what harm was done? Despite all the rhetoric, no one really seems to have answered that question. I certainly can’t find anywhere in the law where you have a right to never, ever be offended.
    Boy, wouldn’t life be fun if we knew what everyone else thought about us at all times? Your narrow-mindedness is astonishing.

  • pgb0517

    No, it is easy to side with the photographers in this case. Nobody has a “right” to force another person to take his photo for any reason. Nobody has a “right” to force a business owner to go attend an event that he finds morally objectionable.

  • Alex Tardif

    This right here. Educate yourself, people, before blabbering nonsense. Despite your view on the topic, refusing to perform service to a protected class is exactly why the analogy above has 100% merit.

  • pgb0517

    Pretty sad when your “solution” would require good people to lie just to stay out of court.

  • OtterMatt

    Yes, as a matter of fact, I AM in support of that right. Mostly because I actually believe in the principle of choice and freedom of expression completely, and not in a half-assed way that seems to change according to how strongly the wind is blowing in favor of what you think is “right” at a given moment. I’d like to think we’re all savvy enough that such a business wouldn’t last long, but either you have the freedom to carry your life on as you wish, or you don’t. Vote with your wallet, and stop trying to coerce people into agreeing with you.

    As many old vets have said, “I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to say it.” You could learn a lot from them.

  • Thomas

    Everyone would find it ok if they had refused to photograph a polygamous wedding.

  • skurge2144

    No, what is sad is righteous Christians being ‘holier-than-thou’ and discriminating people based on their sexual preferences. Jesus would never have acted this way. Some role models we have become. Oh, by the way, I’m a Baptist Christian. So there you go..

  • pgb0517

    And the point here was, the law tramples on the First Amendment and should be tossed out, but the “supremes” didn’t want to touch it.

  • HomeyTheClown

    So now you just send a quote for $10 million…………..

  • OtterMatt

    Simply put, the agenda to ensure that homosexuals get rights that no one else has ever been entitled to in the history of America.
    They already had the right to find someone to do business with that they agreed with. Now they’re pushing for the right to ensure that it’s illegal to express disagreement. It seems they’ve got it.

  • JustFedUp86

    It comes down to it being a choice. I have photographed a commitment ceremony, overall it was a pleasant experience.

    However, I was asked to be there and decided to take the job. There are two really bad problems with this. First is the door is wide open now that if I turn someone down because I don’t think I can work with them or their demands would be unrealistic they can claim “you told me that because I was gay” and sue and make me lose my job.

    In this case the person who filed the suit worked as an “Equal Opportunity Representative” at the University of New Mexico and e-mailed under an alias and found out the photographer would take the job thinking she was talking to a straight couple. There is nothing to stop someone now with an axe to grind from pulling something similar. (Example, I tell them I’m busy on such and such a date to get out of photographing a ceremony I’m really uncomfortable with, they use an alias to find out I’m free on that day. Lawsuit!)

    Second is religious freedom; why should someone who expresses openly “I don’t want to do this because it violates my beliefs” be punished? Really, after having said that would they still want that photographer to do their ceremony? All the photographer had said was she didn’t want to do the ceremony, they never said if they had any trouble getting someone else to photograph it.

  • skurge2144

    “good people”.. LMAO

  • Rob Elliott

    Same Sex was not recognized by the state. Marriage can be a two part system. The Legal document, and the Religious/Personal Commitment.

    In the case of Traditional Christian Marriage two different things occur, the Religious Marriage and the State Marriage Contract signing. The Church is empowered to act as a representative of the State in the US. If you practice a Religion whose Clergy are not empowered by the state then you have to have two different Services.

    My Faith actually has a short term Marriage option that often never involves the Government or Taxes. But if I want pictures for such a service a photographer has no right to refuse based solely on that criteria.