NM Sup. Court Upholds Discrimination Laws

NM Sup. Court Upholds Discrimination Laws August 26, 2013

The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld that state’s anti-discrimination laws, which protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (most states don’t), and ruled that a Christian business owner doesn’t have a free exercise right to refuse to do business with gay people. Cut the outrage and cries of tyranny.

The New Mexico Human Rights Act forbids businesses to discriminate by “refusing to offer its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to any person because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation or physical or mental handicap, provided that the physical or mental handicap is unrelated to a person’s ability to acquire or rent and maintain particular real property or housing accommodation.”

Elane Photography refused to offer its services to a lesbian couple at their wedding, the couple filed a complaint and won and the photographer then filed a lawsuit seeking an exemption from the law on the basis of the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the state supreme court has now denied that exemption, making this rather obvious point:

A holding that the First Amendment mandates an exception to public accommodations laws for commercial photographers would license commercial photographers to freely discriminate against any protected class on the basis that the photographer was only exercising his or her right not to express a viewpoint with which he or she disagrees. Such a holding would undermine all of the protections provided by antidiscrimination laws.

Therein lies the problem. A business owner could just as easily refuse their services to an interracial couple, an inter-religious couple, a couple of another religion or no religion. And of course, the ruling they wanted would not be limited to photographers, it would set the precedent to allow any business to demand such an exemption. As the ruling pointed out, “when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

All this talk of the business owner’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” is really quite irrelevant unless you also are demanding exemptions for every other form of discrimination as well. And that means gutting all laws against discrimination, which the court rightly refused to do. You can read the full ruling here.

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