A gay Jacksonville couple who was refused service by a photographer who cited his religious beliefs as justification for not shooting their wedding photos has gotten a happy ending.
Billy Thornton and Andrew Wells have been together for about a decade and recently decided to get married. They reached out to a local business, Name Sake Pictures, to inquire about wedding photography, but were rejected.
According to screenshots of conversations between the couple and Name Sake Pictures, the company refused services to the couple because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
“Thank you for letting me know you are a same-sex couple,” the message from the company reads. “As a born-again Christian, saved through Jesus out of homosexuality, I have to say I have a conviction for engaging in a celebration that the Lord condemns.
“When Jesus saves us from our sins he gives us a new heart. We become a new creation in Him to worship Him and desire to obey His commandments not perfectly but gradually,” the message continues. “Though I know that I may not hear back from you, Billy, I pray that you choose to repent and serve Christ and surrender to His righteous will for you and Andrew. He cares enough to use Thumbtack to have me address this with you. I will be praying for you and Andrew.”
Thornton and Well didn’t take the message from the owner very well, according to local TV broadcast First Coast News. Thornton took to Facebook, writing: “I want to respond,, as we have had an ongoing conversation for quite a while now, but I am EXTREMELY offended at the same time. … This felt like an attempt to ridicule and shame us while pointing out the fact that we are SUCH HORRIFIC SINNERS in need of their prayers.”
He told First Coast News that if the company had politely declined their business, he would have moved on, but was irritated by what he saw as a “condescending” attitude on the part of the owner.
In a statement, Mauricio Belgrano, the owner of Name Sake Pictures, a self-described “former homosexual” who has since become a born-again Christian, said he cannot countenance taking pictures for same-sex weddings, adding: “[I] no longer practice that lifestyle nor wish to use my talent to promote it.”
Belgrano told First Coast News that he believes he has the right to refuse service based on his religious beliefs. He claims he’s received threatening phone calls and negative reviews since refusing Thornton and Wells. However, he said he’d be willing to meet with the couple to talk over their differences.
After the story went public, Thornton said he and Wells were “inundated” with offers from photographers from as far away as Atlanta and South Florida.
“Andrew and I were humbled with the enormous outpouring of support, not only from photographers offering to do our wedding, but the [On Your Side segment] story being shared and reaching so many people,” which he said “helped us to focus on the positive and continue planning our best wedding possible, even after this mild setback.”
The couple has since decided to use a photographer from nearby Baker County and will only be charged taxes for the photos.