There’s been a lot of noise in the last few days since a New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that a New Mexico photographer discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to photograph a “commitment ceremony” between two lesbians. Important point: “New Mexico law does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions for same-sex couples, but its Human Rights Act requires that places of public accommodation not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The photographer claimed that her Christian faith would not allow her to photograph the event. However, we must first remember that it was not a “wedding,” so she can’t really claim that her belief that “marriage is between a man and a woman” has any bearing here. She is, in fact, using her Christian faith to refuse her services in a discriminatory manner.
There are plenty of pro-business and right-wing sites saying that the court is twisting the law to punish Christians or that the law forces people to work for those they hate. However, basically those folks are all twisting the ruling themselves.
A restaurant can’t easily discriminate against diners. If you walk in and see empty tables, it’s very hard for them to refuse you service. But a photographer can easily discriminate against potential clients without revealing the issue. My calendar is not out for everyone to view. When a potential client discusses a job with me, I don’t first reveal whether I’m booked that day. I first want to discuss the job to see if I can do the job adequately. I’ve turned down plenty of jobs I didn’t think I was properly equipped to do, without revealing that I dislike the client. (and yes, you really can dislike a client at the interview enough that you don’t want to work with them) Vibe is important, and I’m sure every wedding photographer can tell a story about realizing at the interview phase that this wedding is going to be a horrible experience and trying to figure out how they can get out of it. If you wisely don’t display your prices, you can sometimes price yourself out of a job that you don’t want to take.
None of this is discrimination. It’s only discrimination if you tell the client you won’t work for them for any of the reasons that are forbidden by law. And this is the sticking point: if you want to wear your religious views on your sleeve, you are going to run into trouble. If you only want Christians as clients, then posting a set of the Ten Commandments or John 3:16 in your window may accomplish that desire, although it strikes me as bad business to drive away potential customers. But telling clients you won’t work for them because you don’t agree with their (insert discriminatory item here) is illegal and bad business.
No, I wouldn’t want to hire a photographer that hated me, nor would I want to work for a client that hated me. But there are plenty of good reasons that a photographer/client relationship might be a bad fit. Don’t use a bad one that leads to a lawsuit.
The studio asked hypothetically whether an African-American photographer would be required to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally.
The court responded: “The Ku Klux Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”