This article from National Review Online about a sexual orientation discrimination case in New Mexico is a must read. In the case, an Albuquerque photography studio run by a husband/wife team declined to provide photography for a same-sex commitment ceremony based on the religious beliefs of the owners. The state's Human Rights Commission found Elane Photography guilty of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2008, and last month the state's Court of Appeals upheld this ruling. According to the Court, the studio provides services to the public and therefore has no free speech protections under the First Amendment.
I think this ruling represents a grave threat to religious liberty. As the article points out, photography is a highly personal, creative, and artistic pursuit that is entirely different from the services of a restaurant or department store. And art has long been recognized by the courts as a personal form of expression protected under the First Amendment. In fact, in their initial e-mail request for photography services, the lesbian couple asked for a photographer to help "celebrate" their commitment ceremony. Clearly, forcing a photographer to lend her artistic skill to celebrate something to which she has a conscientious objection is nothing less than government coercion and a violation of the photographer's right of free speech. And for that matter, would it not be in the lesbian couple's best interest to find a photographer that was supportive of their ceremony, assuming that their goal was to get the best photos possible of the event? What couple would want someone taking pictures of their wedding who was compelled to do so against her will? There is little doubt that the couple bringing the suit could have easily found a first-rate photographer who would gladly have helped to celebrate their ceremony, but instead they chose to pursue a political agenda that involved trying to shutter a business whose owners disapproved of their lifestyle choice. In fact, this whole case provides support for my previous argument that the push for same-sex marriage is really about forcing societal approval of homosexuality.
The logical result of this ruling is to effectively bar all individuals with traditional religious beliefs (Christians, Jews, and Muslims, to name a few) from the wedding photography business, since they cannot in good conscience celebrate same-sex marriage. And, as the article notes, what about writers, videographers, graphic designers, clothing designers, and others? Logically, under this decision they would also be forced to enter into contracts to offer their services on behalf of causes with which they disagree. Already, in Kentucky a T-shirt company has had legal action brought against it for refusing to make shirts for a gay pride parade. If this ruling holds, discrimination laws in certain cities would force marketing agencies to work for political organizations like the Communist Party USA. If free speech means anything at all, it should mean that individuals and businesses have the right to make their own decisions when it comes to personal and creative services governed by private contracts. And no one should be forced to use their marketable skills on behalf of a cause that violates their conscience. If this ruling stands, it is a severe blow to both freedom of religion and freedom of speech.