Mostoller Team, Small Businesses Champion Rights

August 23, 2013
The New Mexico Supreme Court has affirmed that a commercial business cannot discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation any more than it can discriminate based on race.

The court held on August 22, 2013, that a photography studio violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple’s marriage ceremony because both were women.  The case was Willock v. Elane Photography of Santa Fe.

Sutin, Thayer & Browne lawyers Kerry Kiernan and Lynn Mostoller wrote an amicus or “friend of the court” brief on behalf of several local business owners. Those owners wanted the Supreme Court to understand that they viewed the public accommodation principles not as an impediment but as a value, and that they supported what Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth were fighting for.

The Supreme Court agreed that the NMHRA does not violate Elane’s owners’ First Amendment or free speech rights because the NMHRA only compels nondiscriminatory conduct, not belief, nor does it compel Elane to speak any unwanted government message. The court pointed out that there is no exemption from anti-discrimination laws for creative or expressive professions.

Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote in the specially concurring opinion:

“The Huguenins [the studio owners] today can no more turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation—photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony—than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims.”

“This case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish. … The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have pay somewhere in our civic life.”

“I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”

Sutin, Thayer & Browne, with offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, is the largest women-owned law firm in New Mexico, providing exceptional legal services since 1946.

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