Refusing to Photograph a Gay Wedding Isn’t Hateful

Conor Friedersdorf does not agree with Christian views on sexuality. He doesn’t think homosexuality or premarital sex is a sin. He supports legal gay marriage. Nevertheless, he believes it is wrong to accuse Christian business owners of being bigots for refusing to participate in gay weddings. He also defends Ross Douthat against such ugly accusations. Writing for The Atlantic, Friedersdorf argues that “Refusing to Photograph a Gay Wedding Isn’t Hateful.”

This is the kind of fair-mindedness that I hope we see more of from the other side of this debate. It seems that voices like his are becoming fewer and fewer. In the excerpt below, notice once again that the Christian photographer was happy to photograph gay people. She just didn’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. Friedersdorf writes:

Remember the New Mexico photographer who got sued after declining to photograph a lesbian couple’s wedding, citing religious objections to same-sex marriage? Her name is Elaine Huguenin. In Slate, Mark Joseph Stern has branded her a “homophobe” and an “anti-gay bigot” whose actions sprung from hatred.* He offers no evidence in support of those charges. Insofar as I’ve found, nothing in the public record establishes that this Christian photographer is afraid of gay people, or intolerant of them, or that she bears any hatred toward gays or lesbians.

The facts of her case do suggest that she regards marriage as a religious sacrament with a procreative purpose, that her Christian beliefs cause her to reject same-sex marriage, and that her business discriminates against same-sex weddings because she believes wedding photography requires artistic efforts to render the subject captured in a positive light. She believes making that effort would be wrong.

In America, there is plenty of homophobia, plenty of anti-gay bigotry, and plenty of people whose antagonism to gays and lesbians is rooted in hatred. Sometimes the language of religious liberty is used to justify behavior that is anything but Christ-like. But the Slate article is implicitly trafficking in its own sort of prejudice. The working assumption is that homophobia, anti-gay bigotry, and hatred are obviously what’s motivating anyone who declines to provide a service for a gay wedding.

That assumption is wrongheaded. A closer look at the photographer’s case is the best place to begin. Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin lost a case before the New Mexico Supreme Court, and have now appealed the ruling. As noted in their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Huguenins’ photography business does serve gay and lesbian clients, just not same-sex weddings. Insofar as a photographer can distinguish between discriminating against a class of client and a type of event—there is, perhaps, a limit—their business does so: “The Huguenins gladly serve gays and lesbians—by, for example, providing them with portrait photography—whenever doing so would not require them to create expression conveying messages that conflict with their religious beliefs.”

Read the rest here.

28 Responses to Refusing to Photograph a Gay Wedding Isn’t Hateful

  1. Chris Ryan March 7, 2014 at 2:31 am #

    I think you can make a good argument–and this photographer has–that forcing them to shoot a gay wedding is unconstitutional. I also wouldn’t consider this photographer hateful. I do think there’s a big qualitative difference between a wedding photographer–who actually has to attend the wedding–and a wedding cake baker who only has to bake a cake. Those 2 things are different.

    • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      A baker is still presumably decorating the cake with figurines of two men/women and frosting some sort of happy message on it. It’s a positive contribution to the ceremony. It gives it legitimacy, as if it’s just a wedding like any other. So, I think it’s fair to categorize the two together.

  2. Alastair Roberts March 7, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    I found it interesting to see this random assortment of predominantly liberal responses (Metafilter skews strongly in that direction) to a case where the boot was on the other foot. In this case the discrimination is directly against a person, not just an event.

  3. Curt Day March 7, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Just because the refusal to photograph is not out of personal animosity doesn’t mean that the refusal cannot contribute to the practice of discrimination.

  4. Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I do have a problem with this piece though. It’s implying that there’s a big, huge difference between refusing to take pictures for a gay “wedding” and refusing to take portrait photography of gays and lesbian—like the one is completely reasonable and the other is unquestionably hateful.

    Now I hadn’t known that Elaine’s did portrait photography for gays and lesbians, but I confess to being a little surprised. Were I in her position, I would not do so. I couldn’t disagree more that it would be bigoted and hateful for her business to refuse even non-“wedding” photography showing gay couples in a positive light. Now, presumably that WOULD bother the author, because he would say, “Well now you’re JUST being anti-gay.” Well, if that’s what he defines as “anti-gay,” then I guess I’m anti-gay. Oh well. See, that’s what bugs me about the article and what makes me a bit more hesitant than Denny to recommend it so enthusiastically. As nice as it is to get a positive nod from somebody on his side, we need to understand that there are still some perfectly acceptable choices a Christian employer could make that might not meet his standard for non-bigoted behavior. And we need to be okay with that.

    • Chris Ryan March 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      The difference is we’re supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner. When we hate the sinner–don’t want to associate with them, refuse to do business with them–that makes it bigotry. There can be a fine line–as with photographers vs bakers in my view–but an important line nonetheless. What you’re suggesting is that if a Roman Pagan walked into Jesus’ “carpentry shop” and said, “Hi, sir, could you build me a simple house for my family please?” Christ would’ve said, “No.” I don’t think Christ would’ve said that. I see no scriptures where He shunned sinners even tho He hated sin.

      • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

        No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Building a house isn’t legitimizing something sinful. Your example would be more akin to a gay person walking in and saying, “I’d like a burger and fries please.” Waiving my consistent libertarianism on service in general, I don’t see that scenario as at all similar to the photographer/baker scenario. Now, I do in fact think that when it comes to gay COUPLES, somebody like a restaurant owner could reasonably decide that they are disturbing the atmosphere he wants to create. Perhaps he wants to appeal to a family demographic and believes it’s unhealthy to expose children to perverse forms of romance. The same goes for men in drag, Goth teens, etc.

        And if you want to say, “That’s bigoted and treats gay people in an undignified way,” I’m going to reply that homosexuality is not a dignified behavior. Homosexual attraction is a tragedy. It is not something that should be aired and celebrated in public. This is why I think even Christians who suffer from it should probably not even be “out” in the sense of telling the whole Church/world that they have this affliction. I do believe there should be counselors and close friends in the homosexual Christian’s life who are aware and able to help with his struggle, but the rest of the world doesn’t need to know that you’re tempted to have sex with other men/women.

        • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

          Let me also add that meeting privately for a drink with a homosexual couple (perhaps to share the gospel with them) is not even remotely similar to inviting the couple to your family restaurant. Jesus ministered to the lost and desired all men to be saved, as we should too, but there’s a world of difference between quietly bringing the good news to somebody and helping to normalize their public sin, particularly one that young children shouldn’t even know about.

        • Nathan Cesal March 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

          How gross can you be, Esther O? You want people to hide and be untruthful about themselves. All because they offend your sense of propriety. That is sad and gross.

          • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

            So *I’m* gross, because I think two men kissing is unnatural and unseemly. I’m sorry, just having a hard time processing how inside out that is.

          • Esther O'Reilly March 8, 2014 at 10:44 am #

            As for people who are gay but celibate (i.e., Christians), I never said I believe they should be untruthful about themselves. I simply said that they don’t need to tell everybody everything about themselves. If I had a disorder that made me inclined to eat feces instead of food, why would I need to let the whole world know about that? This doesn’t require lying, merely discretion. I’m not saying they need to pretend to be attracted to women or what have you.

        • Curt Day March 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

          Catering a wedding or providing flowers or photography services is no more legitimizing the wedding as is providing lodging for a couple legitimizing their relationship. And that is the point here. Because if catering a wedding, providing flowers or photography services legitimizes the wedding, which is not the purpose of providing such services in the first place, then providing lodging for a couple is legitimizing their being together. This is one of the inconsistencies which Powers and Merritt point out with those who do not want to provide business services for a same-sex wedding.

      • Alastair Roberts March 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

        What if a prostitute were to come into Jesus’ carpentry shop and ask him to help building her new brothel?

        • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

          Wouldn’t that be the pimp’s brothel? Anyway, I digress. Another point is that we need to distinguish here between a person who simply has a false belief and a person who is openly behaving in a perverse way. There’s no proprietary reason why I would want to refuse service to somebody who held atheist or pagan beliefs. This isn’t about beliefs, it’s about behavior and appearance.

          • Alastair Roberts March 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

            Not all procurers are male; there are also madams. My comment was actually supposed to be a response to Chris’s. And, yes, the difference between discriminating against persons and discriminating in the case of actions and events needs to be recognized.

            • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

              Oh no worries, I knew you were addressing Chris. We’re on the same team. By the way I noticed your old feminist nemesis showing up in Burk’s new thread on egalitarianism. You did such a patient job addressing all her arguments in that mammoth thread a while back!

              • Alastair Roberts March 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

                Thanks! Yes, I saw that. Sadly, the arguments are ones that she has brought forward and which have been answered several times already in various contexts. As usual, they are tenuous and piecemeal objections that fail to engage with the substance of Denny’s position, or to give a workable alternative reading of the biblical passage in question. Complementarian/egalitarian comment threads, especially when interacting with particular persons, can be like some form of Groundhog Day.

                • Esther O'Reilly March 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

                  I seriously need to watch that movie. Second reference just today. Must be a sign.

        • Nathan Cesal March 7, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

          Alastair, Jesus made the whole world knowing what we would use it for…

          • Alastair Roberts March 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

            He made it and gave it to us to use, but he did not sanction all of the uses to which we have put it. This is quite different from making something that is designated for a very particular use, or facilitating a particular action or event.

            How far are you prepared to take this principle? Would Jesus willingly and happily have constructed a cross for the Romans? Alternatively, would you print the Westboro Baptist Church’s signs for them in good conscience?

        • Chris Ryan March 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

          I thought Esther was making the argument that Christians should be allowed to refuse service to homosexuals, period, regardless of if its a gay wedding or simply a portrait. If I recall correctly, as a Libertarian, she thinks businesses should be able to refuse service to anyone for any reason…I’m all for a limited conscience clause that would excuse, say, photographers & caterers from being around something sinful, in the same way I would let a Christian photographer/caterer beg off from servicing, say, a strip club. I do think being at a gay wedding is meaningfully & qualitatively different than simply baking a cake for one. And given the real and present discrimination gays face–most states lack a ENDA–I think things should be tilted a slight bit in their favor.

          • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

            Correct, I do take a lib stance on this particular issue, though I have many concerns with the that party as a whole and hence don’t label myself that way in general. But it’s not the federal government’s place to force private business owners to run their businesses a certain way. Blatant violation of the 10th Amendment. That being said, of course I believe there’s a moral difference between denying service to a gay couple and denying service to a black person. Unless the black person is being disorderly in some way, there is nothing about being black that’s perverse, obtrusive, or offensive. There is something offensive about openly displaying affection with one’s same-sex partner, or, if you consider yourself transgender, walking in in drag. For that reason, I don’t consider it arbitrary or unreasonable for an owner to be concerned in those instances. And in cases where it is unreasonable or arbitrary, the fact that I don’t think the federal government should be involved doesn’t mean I would frequent that business. (Split here, for some reason there’s a bug that won’t let me post more.)

          • Esther O'Reilly March 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

            Continuing my last comment, it must be noted that all this goes beyond even what the issues on the table are with the florist/baker/photographer. And while I get your point constitutionally about artistic expression vs. participation that’s not creative, I believe one’s conscience still shouldn’t be compelled in non-artistic expression cases. For example, an orthodox Jewish caterer should not be forced to cater a wedding of a Jewish man to a Gentile woman. Food isn’t an artistic expression, but it shouldn’t matter.

  5. Nathan Cesal March 7, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    Gay people deserve to be treated with dignity in places of business. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t be in business.

    • Curt Day March 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      Nathan,
      I agree. One is in business not to support any of the legal actions performed by those in the community served by the business, but to provide services for and financially gain from the community. And since the private is the only source for many of the goods and services, to refuse service to a group is to set a precedent and to, at least in part, deny them access to the goods and services offered to the whole community.

  6. Sam Hendrickson March 7, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    Straight Christians deserve to be treated with dignity as business owners.

    • James Bradshaw March 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      Sam writes: “Straight Christians deserve to be treated with dignity as business owners.”

      Just straight Christians? Why should we not allow Muslim cab drivers to not pick up single women? Why must there even be a religious test to determine whether a business owner can deny services or not?

      What’s wrong with simply saying that any business can deny any service to anyone for any reason whatsoever? Do you see potential issues with that or not? On the flip side, how much true injustice will arise from businesses being required to extend their services to everyone who seeks them?

      You have to weigh these competing goods and claims to rights, and personally, I see more potential harm from giving business owners the ability to discriminate with impunity (as history has shown).

  7. Ian Shaw March 10, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    It’s just interesting to me that when someone files legal charges againt these proprietors, it’s automatically assumed the refusale was out of hate. But in the court of law, the burden of proof would be on the plaintiff to prove that the refusal was out of hate. That’s not something a plaintiff would easily (if at all) be able to do.

    But for some reason, it’s just accepted as truth w/o having to be proven.

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