To Scott Sandlin
BY Recent stories
by Scott Sandlin
$$ NewsLibrary Archives search for
Scott Sandlin '95-now
Friday, December 18, 2009
Court Opinion Sides With Lesbian Couple
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
A Christian photo studio will appeal a state District Court opinion that found the studio violated the state Human Rights Act when its owners refused to take photos of a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony in 2006.
The 18-page memorandum opinion by District Judge Alan Malott, filed Friday, followed a similar ruling by the state Human Rights Commission last year.
Both sides had filed motions asking the judge to rule in their favor as a matter of law, saying the facts were not in dispute.
Malott granted the motion in favor of Vanessa Willock, who filed a civil complaint with the state labor department's Human Rights Bureau. The complaint alleges that Elane Photography co-owner Elaine Huguenin sent Willock an e-mail saying the studio only photographed "traditional" marriage ceremonies.
Willock and her partner eventually hired another studio for their ceremony in September 2007.
Malott's ruling prompted a quick response from Alliance Defense Fund, which took up Huguenin's cause, saying it would appeal. The ADF, "a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations," contends the commission decision and Malott's ruling amount to a violation of the Huguenins' right to practice their religion.
The human rights commission decided in April 2008 that the studio had discriminated against Willock on the basis of her sexual orientation and ordered Huguenin to pay Willock's legal fees totaling about $6,600. Willock did not seek money damages.
The studio owners appealed to the District Court.
There, Elane Photography argued that it is not a "public accommodation" because it doesn't occupy a physical space. But Malott found that it is a public accommodation, noting that through advertisements on the Internet, its Web site and in the Yellow Pages, the studio "literally opens its doors to the public" to provide goods and services.
Malott also rejected Elane's freedom of expression and freedom of religion claims.
"Neither (the studio) nor its owner-operators have been prohibited from practicing their religion or adhering to their beliefs. At most, they have been directed to respect ... Willock's belief system and religious observation," Malott wrote. "They are not being asked to participate in the observation or to adopt or even defend (Willock's) beliefs. They are merely being asked to photograph it, for an agreed fee in the ordinary course of their business."
Malott noted the state has an interest in reducing or eradicating acts of discrimination.
ADF attorney Jordan Lorence said in a news release that Christian businesses "should not be subject to predatory legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs. ... American small business owners do not surrender their constitutional rights at the marketplace gate, nor can the government make people choose between their faith and their livelihood."
He compared it to an animal rights videographer being forced to make a video promoting taxidermy or hunting.