Metro Weekly

Anti-gay wedding photographer claims New York’s nondiscrimination law violates her civil rights

Emilee Carpenter compares her objection to same-sex weddings to refusing to photograph "Halloween or vampire-themed weddings."

Grooms at a wedding – Photo: Alvin Mahmudov, via Unsplash.

A wedding photographer and blogger has filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law, claiming it offends her religious beliefs and violates her civil rights by compelling her to photograph same-sex weddings.

In the lawsuit, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Emilee Carpenter, who identifies as a “Christian,” claims the nondiscrimination law violates her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and right not to participate in religious exercises that conflict with her religious beliefs and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

For the purposes of the lawsuit, Carpenter says her religious beliefs are that “God created marriage to be a joyful, exclusive union between one man and one woman.” She argues that she doesn’t want to provide photography that depicts a marriage in a “negative way” or promote weddings between “same-sex or polygamous” couples.

In the lawsuit, Carpenter compares the concept of photographing a same-sex wedding to photographing “irreverent themed weddings,” such as “Halloween or vampire-themed weddings,” based on her belief that weddings should be “inherently religious and solemn events.”

Carpenter has enlisted the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

ADF is behind many of the lawsuits seeking to nullify or overturn LGBTQ rights or protections throughout the country, and has been influential in crafting legislation similar to the more than 200 bills targeting same-sex marriage, nondiscrimination laws, and transgender rights that are currently working their way through state legislatures or have been signed into law by Republican governors.

In a statement, ADF echoed the argument made in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case involving a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding: that so-called “creative professionals” should have the “freedom to create art consistent with their beliefs without fear of the government closing their business or throwing them in jail.”

“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 claims.

Carpenter says she has received at least seven requests to photograph same-sex weddings in the last year, but declined those requests by not responding to them.

See also: Samuel Alito blasts gay marriage in speech to conservative legal society

Ironically, Carpenter’s lawsuit ignores that she is within her rights to choose not to respond to certain requests, and that her failure to reply would not violate New York’s nondiscrimination law.

In fact, unless she responded to a request and explicitly refused to serve potential customers, they would not even be aware of her religious objections to same-sex marriage, and would most likely continue searching for another photographer, without incident.

Carpenter’s lawsuit claims that the law currently requires her to “create photographs and blogs celebrating same-sex marriage because she creates photographs and blogs celebrating opposite-sex marriage” — a claim belied by the fact that she has not been sued for failing to respond to requests for same-sex weddings.

The lawsuit also argues that state law currently prevents 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,” which she feels she should be able to do.

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and director of law and policy for Lambda Legal, told PinkNews in an interview that all businesses are “free to express their views on all sorts of subjects,” including religion and politics.

“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 said.

“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,” she added. “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 also said that Carpenter’s case is similar in the arguments it makes to other cases that ADF has been pursuing for years, and noted that socially conservative organizations like ADF keep introducing such lawsuits in the hope of obtaining rulings that will eventually put marriage equality up for debate before a much more conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court, with the ultimate goal of reversing marriage equality entirely.

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