ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a studio that refused to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony, letting stand a New Mexico high court ruling that helped spur a national debate over gay rights and religious freedom.
The justices left in place a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling last year that said Elane Photography violated New Mexico's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph the same-sex ceremony "in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."
Elane Photography co-owner Elaine Huguenin said taking the photos for Vanessa Willock and her partner would violate her religious beliefs. She said she also has a right of artistic expression under the First Amendment that allows her to choose what pictures to take, or refrain from taking. She was ordered to pay more than $7,000 in attorneys' fees, which Willock waived.
The case has been cited as lawmakers in other states have proposed legislation exempting people from such lawsuits if doing business with same-sex couples violates their religious beliefs.
Arizona passed such a law this year, but Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed it under pressure and blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.
Similar religious-protection legislation has also been introduced around the country. And eight states, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia, had asked the high court to hear the case so lawmakers would have guidance in considering such measures.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said "at issue is the fundamental question of whether the state can pretend to be a god over the conscience."
The American Civil Liberties Union countered that regardless of personal beliefs, "every business has to play by the same rules to protect customers from discrimination in the marketplace."