Christian wedding photographer sues NY over nondiscrimination law

(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

When Emilee Carpenter opened her wedding photography business in a small hamlet in upstate New York, she probably never expected to wind up being at the center of a lawsuit that would be drawing national attention and controversy. And yet that’s precisely what has happened. Ms. Carpenter is running afoul of recent anti-discrimination laws that were passed in the Empire State, specifically relating to how businesses are allowed to advertise their services when members of the LGBT community might be involved. The state insists that Carpenter’s website must feature pictures celebrating same-sex marriages since she includes photos from traditional marriages. The problem is that Carpenter is a Christian who opposes such unions and argues that the state is attempting to control her protected speech. This led her to bring a lawsuit against state Attorney General Letitia James, challenging the state’s ability to enforce the law. (Free Beacon)

Emilee Carpenter filed a lawsuit against New York attorney general Letitia James (D.) over state nondiscrimination statutes that Carpenter said compel her to violate her religious beliefs about traditional marriage by making her publicize photos of same-sex weddings on her website. The laws require her to create photograph collections on her website celebrating same-sex weddings because she celebrates opposite-sex weddings. Violating the laws could result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines, the state taking away her business license, or even jail time.

The statutes also forbid Carpenter from publishing any sort of editorial stance explaining her religious beliefs about marriage on her website. Carpenter said in an interview that her beliefs are inseparable from her work as a wedding photographer and that the laws are violating her First Amendment rights.

“My faith has been really integral to me as a person but also to my business and the way I operate it and the artwork I create,” Carpenter said. “My faith is really the lens through which I view my art.”

One of the many ironies arising from this confrontation is the fact that Emilee Carpenter is a female business owner and employer. Isn’t she an example of precisely the type of people that liberal politicians claim to be trying to encourage and uplift? Fight the patriarchy! And yet the state is putting her in a position where she will either have to violate her religious beliefs, pay thousands of dollars in fines, or simply close her business.

The specific portion of the law in question that’s being challenged here doesn’t even have anything to do with whether or not Carpenter agrees to accept clients asking her to photograph same-sex weddings. After the entire legal debacle of Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuits, I thought we were done with all of that. These rules are even more byzantine. The state is saying that if Carpenter’s website displays photos of traditional, male-female weddings, she must also feature pictures of same-sex weddings. On top of that, she is forbidden from using her website to provide an editorial explaining her beliefs and how they impact her business policies.

How much further could a state government reach into the conduct of private business before we point out the lunacy of these rules? If she displays pictures of newlyweds of the same race, should she also be forced to include pictures of interracial couples? Must she include photos of couples with an age gap in excess of forty years to make sure there is no age discrimination going on? Where does this end?

Even if the Attorney General can find a district court to take the state’s side, I somehow doubt that these rules will survive a challenge further up the line. In addition to Masterpiece Cakeshop prevailing in the courts, recent victories in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero and Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix seem to indicate that the courts are solidifying in support of the defense of both free speech and religious liberty. And with the Supreme Court’s more conservative tilt this year, Carpenter probably has reason to be at least somewhat optimistic.

Update: (Jazz) The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Emilee Carpenter is African-American. She is, in fact, white. The story has been corrected.