NY Judge Rules Photographer Can’t Refuse to Work at Same-Sex Weddings

NY Judge Rules Photographer Can't Refuse to Work at Same-Sex Weddings NY Judge Rules Photographer Can't Refuse to Work at Same-Sex Weddings (Getty)

By Brian Freeman | Monday, 20 December 2021 04:33 PM

A New York federal judge has ruled that a photographer with religious objections to working at same-sex weddings cannot deny services under the state's accommodations clause, the Washington Examiner reports.

Judge Frank Geraci rejected a request by plaintiff Emilee Carpenter, whose company asked the court to grant a preliminary injunction against the state's anti-discrimination law. Carpenter alleged that the law violated her First Amendment rights to free speech, free association, and free religious expression.

But Geraci, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, ruled that the state has a "compelling interest" to ensure individuals without regard to sexual orientation are granted equal access to publicly available goods, ensuring the "accommodation clause is narrowly tailored, as applied to Plaintiff, to serve that interest."

The judge added that "New York’s public accommodation laws are neutral. By only bringing an as-applied challenge, Plaintiff virtually concedes that the laws are facially neutral. She raises no non-conclusory factual allegations that the laws were enacted with any kind of religious (or anti-religious) motivation."

Carpenter had also said that requiring her to photograph same-sex weddings would force her to "participate in religious exercises contrary to [her] sincere religious beliefs," since it is her practice to "celebrate the wedding," "follow the officiant’s instructions," "sing," and pray at opposite-sex weddings, according to Law & Crime.

But Geraci rejected those arguments, explaining that "insofar as those activities are not services that Plaintiff is hired to provide, the laws would not compel Plaintiff to participate in any religious exercises at same-sex weddings just because she chooses to actively and religiously participate in them when she photographs opposite-sex weddings.

"The religious activities occurring at a wedding, whether for a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple, are directed at the couple, the friends, the family, and any other invitees in attendance. They are not directed at the caterer, the florist, or the photographer."

The conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, which acted as Carpenter's legal team, said it plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, the Washington Examiner reported.

"The court’s decision continues down a dangerous path of the government compelling artists to speak messages that violate their religious beliefs — or imposing steep fines, closing their businesses, or throwing them in jail," said ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was named by Carpenter as one of the defendants in the lawsuit, praised the ruling, saying in a statement that "the LGBTQ+ community is an integral part of New York, and no New Yorker should be excluded or turned away from a business or denied a service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."