Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Controversy: Do You Have The Right To Refuse Photographic Service?

Here is a controversial topic that I'm a little nervous to discuss. But there are some deep implications for photographers (and, really, every business owner) that need to be talked about.

Two photographers in New Mexico, a husband and wife team, turned down a request to photograph a lesbian couple's "commitment ceremony" due to conflicts with their religious beliefs. Some time later the lesbian couple sued the photographers and won.

The photographers appealed the decision all the way to New Mexico's Supreme Court, and they still lost. One justice wrote that the photographers must compromise their religious beliefs as "the price of citizenship."
Brownie Target Six-20 - Stallion Springs, California
We can argue about sexual-orientation discrimination. We can argue about first amendment rights. But there is one aspect of this that should scare every photographer and every business owner, regardless of beliefs.

What the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled was that business owners do not have the right to refuse service to anyone. If a customer is willing to pay, you must be willing to work. Even if you disagree with that work. That's the price of citizenship.

Why this bothers me is that I took a paying job once that I later regretted. Without getting into too many details, a member of a certain "club" known for bad deeds paid me to photograph him. And I did. I photographed him on his ride. I photographed him in the clubhouse. I got inside access that few outsiders do. I took the job thinking that it was a cool and unique opportunity.
Indian Arts - Gallup, New Mexico
I later wished that I'd said no. There were some complications, and I feared some harm might come to me or my family. If a similar opportunity came up again I would most certainly decline.

But do I even have the right to decline? If I decline photographic work, can I be sued later and told that I must perform the work as the price of citizenship? That's what happened to those New Mexico photographers.

Now you can say that this was a unique case and a protected group. But, if you look deeper, homosexual groups are protected no more or less than, say, biker groups (outside of social perceptions). If I declined, perhaps it could be said that I'm prejudice against bikers and that I must do whatever is asked of me.

In the case of the New Mexico photographers, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal. In doing so, they allow the New Mexico Supreme Court's ruling to stand, and their precedence to become accepted law.

So do you have the right to refuse photographic services? I guess you do up until the point that you get sued, then you don't. You must perform your services to any paying customer as the price of your citizenship. That's the law, thanks to New Mexico.

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