Thursday, December 17, 2009

How New Mexico's Human Rights Act Can Work.

From Religion Clause, an odd, contested case in New Mexico, below. Shows you what I know: I never expected that the court could require a person to serve, to photograph (in this case), a job she didn't want to. For more on New Mexico's Human Rights Act, see here. And the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here.

This case reminds me of the issue with Bob Jones University's prevention of integration and interracial dating, the latter of which was outlawed on campus until the late date of 1983. Although the business mentioned below, I assume, doesn't receive federal funds, the University did. What makes me make the connection is the use of religious grounds to justify discrimination. And if New Mexico is intolerant of religious discrimination, has the law been applied to women's reproductive rights and Catholic hospitals?

There is a hospital merger case that comes to mind. For two years, community members and advocates from Women's Law Center and The MergerWatch Project fought to guarantee that the merger did not end delivery of women's reproductive services. You can google St. Vincent's and New Mexico and read more about the story. (Note to self: learn more about New Mexico politics!)

In Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, (NM Dist. Ct., Dec. 11, 2009), a New Mexico trial court held that a limited liability company owned by a husband and wife and operating a photography business violated New Mexico's Human Rights Actwhen owner-photographer Elaine Huguenin refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Upholding finding by the state's Human Rights Commission (see prior posting), the court concluded that the company was a public accommodation that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. It held that application of the HRA did not violate Huguenin's freedom of expression because she is merely a conduit for her client's message in the photos. Huguenin had argued that enforcement of the HRA here forced her to convey a message that a marital relationship can exist between two individuals of the same sex.

The court also concluded that enforcement did not infringe Hugenin's free exercise of religion. Huguenin argued that this forced her to attend a religious ceremony that violates her conscience. The court held however that the HRA is a neutral law of general applicability. Finally the court rejected a claim under the New Mexico
Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Alliance Defense Fund announced yesterday that it will appeal the decision.

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