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Posts for April, 2008

More Facts about Elane Photography

Timothy Kincaid

April 14th, 2008

UPDATE: Decision and Final Order [pdf]

The Decision and Final Order of the Human Rights Commission lays out the facts leading to the determination.

Vanessa Willock sent to Elane Photography the following e-mail on September 21, 2006, a year in advance of her ceremony.

We are researching potential photographers for our commitment ceremony on September 15, 2007 in Taos, NM.

This is a same-gender ceremony. If you are open to helping us celebrate our day we’d like to receive pricing information.


Elaine Huguenin responded

Hello Vanessa,
As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singer’s portfolios.

Willock wrote again

Hi Elaine,
Thanks for your response below of September 21, 2006. I’m a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response. Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?

Huguenin in conclusion

Hello Vanessa,
Sorry if our last response was a confusing one. Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site!
Have a great day.

In November 2006 Willock’s partner, Misty Collinsworth, contacted Huguenin and – without mentioning the sex of the partners – inquired about services. Huguenin responded enthusiastically and sought to follow up.

On December 20, 2006, Willock filed a charge of discrimination against Elane Photography.

The decision included two questions: did discrimination occur based on sexual orientation, and was Elane Photography a public accommodation. The commission found the answer to both questions to be in the affirmative.

Elane’s attorneys argued that Ms. Huguenin’s religious convictions provided exclusion to the New Mexico Human Rights Act. The commission found that questions of the constitutionality of the NMHRA was “not before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission for determination in this proceeding and, accordingly, are not addressed here.

Elane Photography Loses

Timothy Kincaid

April 12th, 2008

canon.jpg In February we told you about Elane Photography, a small company in New Mexico that is ran by Elaine Huguenin and her husband. In 2006, a lesbian couple had requested that Elane photograph their commitment ceremony and the Ms. Huguenin refused. Vanessa Willock, one of the couple, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.

The Las Cruces Sun-News has the results:

The commission’s one-page ruling Wednesday said Elane Photography violated the state Human Rights Act by discriminating against Willock on the basis of sexual orientation, and should pay $6,637 for Willock’s attorney’s fees and costs.

The commission found that Elane Photography, as a commercial business, provided a public accomodation and could not, under law, discriminate based on sexual orientation.

I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised at the determination and still have unanswered questions about the thinking that went into it. Because the company was primarily one individual I was expecting that the commission would allow for Ms. Huguenin’s religious objections.

I am troubled by the decision and am not certain whether or not I think this is the best conclusion.

On one hand, I recognize the value of the limitations that society has placed on the application of religious beliefs and can see the societal benefits that have resulted from anti-discrimination laws. I would not want a plumber, for example, using religious freedom as an excuse to deny services to a Muslim. And I don’t want to return to the day when a store can refuse service to someone solely because they are black or Jewish or gay.

But, on the other hand, I don’t think we are best served by forcing photographers to participate at same-sex commitment ceremonies and I am not convinced of the wisdom of laws that don’t allow for religious objections. I fear that legislatures that might be considering laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination will balk if they believe that individuals will be forced to participate in events that they find immoral or objectionable.

But the story is not yet over.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that defends religious liberty, plans to appeal to state district court.

Photographer Challenged for Denying Services to Lesbian Couple

Timothy Kincaid

February 28th, 2008

According to various anti-gay media including the Washington Times, Elaine Huguenin, a photographer in Albuquerque was brought before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission due to her denial of services to a lesbian couple. She is defended by Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay legal ministry.

When Elaine Huguenin of Albuquerque, N.M., declined in September 2006 an e-mail request from a lesbian couple to photograph their ceremony, one of the lesbians responded by lodging a human rights complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Division, the state agency charged with enforcing state anti-discrimination laws and sending cases to the commission to be adjudicated.

Because anti-gay media is notoriously prone to “error”, I am hesitant to assume that the facts are as stated in the Times, LifeSite, or the other propaganda arms of the anti-gay industry.

However, according to Francie D. Cordova, New Mexico Labor Relations Division Director, here are the bare facts of the case:

A Hearing Office conducted an administrative hearing whereby both the photographer and the complaining party were represented by attorneys. What occurred was a due process hearing and not an interrogation. The case was based on a denial of public accommodation. The Commission has not yet considered the case as the hearing officer has not rendered a recommendation.

I am not privy to any behind-the-scenes communication that led to the complaint. So we do not know what was said by Mrs. Huguenin or by Vanessa Willock, the complaintant.

But this case bothers me.

On one hand, I don’t think that denying services to individuals based on characteristics such as race, gender, orientation, or religion are admirable or have any basis in Christian faith (the reason purported to be behind Huguenin’s denial of service). I do believe that gay persons should be protected from discrimination in the public square.

One should not have the privelege – or so I believe – to bar the door of a restaurant, a barber shop, a grocery store, or a lunch counter due to bigotry or bias.

On the other hand, the type of services provided by Elane Photography require the personal services of Elaine Huguenin herself, at a specified time and place, participating in a ceremony that Ms. Huguenin finds offensive. This is not simply providing services to a gay person, among many persons, but rather it is imposing on Huguenin a level of discomfort that seems an autocratic interference in private business rather than a protection of gay citizens.

And I find the story to be a sad reflection on our society.

Elaine’s photography is, to my untrained eye, quite good. I can see why Ms. Willock would select her for the ceremony.

But what troubles me is that Christianity, as a whole, has become so hostile to gay people that it seems reasonable that faith would be given as a reason for not providing services. Would divorce, pre-marital sex, incompatible faith-affiliations, or a lack of religious adherence be any cause for denying service by Elane Photography? I very much doubt it.

And I am also troubled by an attitude that is inflexible of the sensitivities of others. Would it have been so difficult for Ms. Willock to choose someone else and let Huguenin and her biases alone? Does every slight require punishment?

I will be following this story and will report when more is known.

New Mexico Moves Forward on Domestic Partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

January 24th, 2008

The Las Cruces Sun-News is reporting that the New Mexico state House of Representatives voted to establish domestic partnerships.

The House approved the measure on a mostly party-line 33-31 vote. Two Republicans supported the bill and seven Democrats opposed it.

The state Senate has a Democrat majority (24 – 18) and if the vote mirrors that of the House, the bill could become law. It has the backing of Governor Bill Richardson.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Senate would approve the proposal.

Although the legislature has chosen to use the language of “Domestic Parner”, a practice most common on the West Coast, the language of the bill provides that:

A. Domestic partners shall be entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits as are afforded or recognized, now or in the future, by the laws of the state to spouses, former spouses, widows or widowers, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil or criminal law.

However, Domestic Partners do have to file state income tax returns under the same provisions as their federal income tax returns, i.e. as legal strangers.

A Hate Crime in New Mexico

Jim Burroway

August 3rd, 2006

What happened last weekend? First it was a gay bashing in San Diego, and now comes another report of terror from New Mexico:

The woman said she and the gay man left the party and had walked halfway down the driveway before the others caught them, knocked them to the ground and took them to an adjoining yard that contained “several large barking dogs” the warrant says. Smith told them they should get ready to be thrown to the dogs, but instead he and others took them to the camper parked in the mobile home’s front yard, the warrant states.

While some of the partygoers tied up the gay man with rope and began hitting him, “Uriah told them that this was a kidnapping and they were not going to die yet,” according to the warrant. A female from the party lifted the woman’s head and kicked her in the face, the warrant says. The woman said she felt her nose break, the warrant says.

“(The woman) was not tied up, but was held in the camper for most of the night while all of the male subjects kept hitting, kicking, slapping and knocking (the gay man) down,” the warrant states. “The male subjects would knock (the gay man) down and if he did not get up off of the ground within a certain count or if he would make any noise, they would jump on him, hitting and kicking him.

“This continued all night until the sun was about to come up.”

This is terror, pure and simple.

Three men have been accused in the crime. Uriah Smith, 17, and William York, 21, were arrested and each charged with two counts of kidnapping, aggravated battery, false imprisonment and conspiracy. Police are still looking for Leroy Segura, age and hometown unknown.

The unidentified 18-year-old male victim suffered bleeding on the brain, concussion, and facial lacerations and bruising. He has since been released from the hospital. The woman’s injuries did not require hospitalization.

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