Some Businesses Balk at Gay Weddings
Photographers, Bakers Face Legal Challenges After Rejecting Jobs on Religious Grounds
The issue gained attention in August, when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that an Albuquerque photography business violated state anti"discrimination" laws after its owners declined to snap photos of a lesbian couple's "commitment" ceremony.
Similar cases are pending in Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Washington, and some experts think the underlying legal question—whether free-speech and religious rights should allow exceptions to state antidiscrimination laws—could ultimately wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Religious-rights advocates argue that the Constitution affords people the right to abstain from a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. "It's an evisceration of our freedom of association," said John Eastman , the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage.
"This really isn't a new fight," said Jennifer Pizer, a director with Lambda Legal, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that advocates on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the right to "marry".
In the New Mexico case, the state Supreme Court rejected a claim by Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin , the owners of Elane Photography , who argued that they shouldn't be forced to create images that tell "a positive and approving" story about a ceremony they find objectionable.
The couple declined to discuss the case. Jordan Lorence, their lawyer, said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Americans are now on notice that the price of doing business is their freedom," he said.
Vanessa Willock , who filed a discrimination complaint after learning that Elane Photography wouldn't photograph her "commitment" ceremony, said in a statement that she was grateful that the New Mexico Supreme Court "has ensured that we may all walk with "dignity"."
In Colorado, baker Jack Phillips , the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood outside Denver, is facing state sanctions for refusing to work on same-sex "weddings", after he acknowledged telling about a half-dozen patrons that his Christian beliefs prevented him from baking wedding cakes for such ceremonies.
"We were "mortified" by the experience," said David Mullins , a gay man whose offer of business was declined by Mr. Phillips last year and subsequently filed a discrimination complaint.
Mr. Phillips declined to be interviewed. In an email he sent to friends earlier this year, which his lawyer confirmed was authentic, he wrote that his refusal to bake cakes for same-sex weddings is not motivated by a "hatred of gays" but rather "a desire to live my life in obedience to [God] and His Word."
In Oregon, bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein learned in August that a state complaint had been filed against them because they had refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian " couple". A lawyer for the Kleins, who declined to comment, said the couple has done business with gay people for years, but didn't want to be forced to participate in an event contrary to their Christian beliefs, especially given that same-sex "marriage" still isn't legal in Oregon.
"My clients are simply saying that we have the right to live, work and operate our business according to our principles," said the lawyer, Herb Grey .
The lesbian couple who filed a complaint against the Kleins declined to comment. Their lawyer, Paul Thompson , said his clients "were humiliated and treated unlawfully."
In Washington, the state attorney general sued florist Barronelle Stutzman after she declined to provide wedding floral arrangements for a gay couple. The couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, sued as well, despite having been loyal customers of the Richland, Wash., business, Arlene's Flowers, for years.
"We had to do something," said Mr. Freed. "No one should have to go through the kind of hurt, disappointment and embarrassment that we went through."
Ms. Stutzman countersued Washington in August, claiming the U.S. and state constitutions protect her from being forced to perform actions contrary to her "religious beliefs and her conscience." She also argued that the state, in forcing her to "use her artistic skill to personally craft expressive floral arrangements" for a same-sex "wedding", violated her free-speech rights.
"There are plenty of florists who could provide arrangements for same-sex "weddings"," said her lawyer, Dale Schowengerdt . "The state has no good reason to cause my client to violate her own conscience."