- The Washington Times - Monday, April 7, 2014

The Supreme Court refused Monday to jump into the raging debate over whether artisans must participate in same-sex weddings, allowing to stand a New Mexico high court ruling against a photographer who declined to take pictures at a commitment ceremony.

Even so, the issue isn’t likely to disappear. A handful of other cases are moving through the judicial system toward the Supreme Court involving photographers, bakers, florists and others who are resisting such participation on free-speech grounds.

“The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jordan Lorence in a statement.

“We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system,” he said.

Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must vote to grant a writ of certiorari to hear a case, and the vote tallies denying certiorari are not released.

Gay-rights groups cheered the court’s decision, saying that it has “paved the way for robust enforcement of non-discrimination laws,” said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow.

“When businesses open their doors to the public, they must abide by the law and not expect special treatment based on personal beliefs,” said Ms. Warbelow in a Monday statement.

Businesses that offer services to the general public must accept customers regardless of the owners’ religious beliefs, said Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project.

“When you make the decision to hold yourself out as a business that serves the general public, you have to be willing to actually serve the general public, which includes a diverse group of people whose values and beliefs may be different than the values and beliefs of the business owner,” said Mr. Block in a post on the ACLU website. “Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer’s marriage.”

Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, declined a request in 2006 from Vanessa Willock to take photos at a same-sex commitment ceremony, citing their religious beliefs.

The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld in August 2013 a decision by the state’s human-rights commission finding that the Huguenins had violated the state’s human-rights act, which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The Huguenins today can no more turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation — photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony — than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims,” said Justice Richard C. Bosson in a concurring opinion. “All of which, I assume, is little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives. Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering.”

The owners were ordered to pay legal fees of $6,637.94 to Ms. Willock, who “easily found another photographer for her ceremony — and for less money,” said a statement by ADF, which represented the Huguenins.

The debate over whether artisans must participate in gay weddings is escalating with the expansion of legalized same-sex marriage.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage, and more are likely to follow in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision ruling that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal-protection clause.

Public opinion is conflicted on the issue. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Feb. 27 found that 66 percent of those surveyed opposed a proposed Arizona law allowing merchants to refuse service for religious reasons, which was ultimately vetoed Feb. 26 by Gov. Jan Brewer.

In the same poll, however, 73 percent said they agreed that a Christian photographer with deeply held beliefs opposing gay marriage should have the right to say no if asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, called the high court’s refusal to hear the case “deeply disturbing.”

“Americans are being forced by government to buy products like Obamacare, and are now being forced to engage in speech with which they morally disagree,” said Mr. Perkins in a statement. “Is the judicial branch now writing the epilogue to the American experiment in ordered liberty?”

Other cases working their way through the pipeline include matters involving a Washington florist, a Colorado cakeshop and a Kentucky T-shirt printer. In those cases, the merchants all served gay clients, and in some cases had gay employees, but drew the line at creating artistic products celebrating same-sex weddings or events.

For example, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint in 2012 with the local human-rights commission against the outfitting company Hands On Originals in Lexington, Ky., after its owner refused to print shirts for a gay-pride festival.

The owner, Blaine Adamson, said he offered to refer the group to another T-shirt maker that would make the shirts for the same price.

Mr. Adamson, whose case is still pending, said he has also refused to print shirts for other events unrelated to gay rights that he believes conflict with his Christian beliefs.

“It’s not that we have a sign on the front door that says ‘no gays allowed.’ We’ll work with anybody,” said Mr. Adamson in a video on the ADF website. “But if there’s a specific message that conflicts with my convictions, then I can’t promote that.”

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