A Christian wedding photographer is suing the state of New York for the right to say she refuses same-sex couples.
Emilee Carpenter, a New York-based photographer and blogger, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday (6 April) alleging the state’s non-discrimination laws violate her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because she “believes that God created marriage to be a joyful, exclusive union between one man and one woman”.
She argued in the lawsuit that she doesn’t want to provide photography that depicts a marriage in a “negative way” or promotes any special occasions between “same-sex or polygamous” couples.
To bolster her argument, she said in her lawsuit that she “would not provide wedding photography” for “irreverent themed weddings” — such as “Halloween or vampire-themed weddings” — because she believes weddings are “inherently religious and solemn events”.
“Just as the government cannot compel a lesbian baker to create a cake condemning same-sex marriage or an atheist playwright to wax positively about God, New York cannot force Emilee to convey messages she objects to,” the lawsuit said.
The legal document said Carpenter has received “at least seven requests” to photograph same-sex weddings in the last year, but Carpenter “declined these requests by not responding to them”.
Anti-LGBT+ Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) helped Carpenter file her lawsuit. The ADF said in a statement that “creative professionals” like Carpenter should have the “freedom to create art consistent with their beliefs without fear of the government closing their business or throwing them in jail”.
The lawsuit stated that New York law requires Carpenter to “create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex marriage because she creates photographs and blogs celebrating opposite-sex marriage”. It added the law prohibits her from posting “statements on her business’s own website explaining her religious views on marriage or her reasons for only creating this wedding content”.
Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and director of law and policy for Lambda Legal, told PinkNews that all businesses are “free to express their views on all sorts of subjects” – including religion and politics – but non-discrimination laws “limit how they can act”.
“While our civil rights laws do not regulate or limit in any way each person’s freedom to believe as they wish about whomever they wish, the laws sometimes do limit expressions of those views if the manner of expressing those views as a practical matter amounts to slamming the door on a customer,” Pizer explained.
She continued: “So, for example, it probably would be fine for a bakery to have signage expressing the baker’s religious views that heterosexual marriage is a sacrament of the highest order.
“It would not be fine for the baker to scream at would-be customers that their same-sex relationship means they are evil and will burn in hell. The manner of expression can make all the difference in workplace harassment cases, and the same is usually true in public accommodations cases.”
Pizer told PinkNews that Carpenter’s case “resembles the many similar cases that ADF has been pursuing for years now”, and the “arguments are excruciatingly familiar”. She said ADF “keeps flooding the courts” with these cases, “determined to get back to the Supreme Court with these familiar arguments” and hope that the “old arguments” will meet a more receptive audience in the “newly composed, Trump-influenced Supreme Court”.