Does Jesus want to ruin your wedding?

Last month, Thomas Hawk had an interesting post about a lawsuit between a lesbian couple and a pair of photographers who refused to shoot their commitment ceremony on religious grounds:

Earlier this week the commission found the photographers guilty of discrimination under New Mexico state anti-discrimination laws and ordered them to pay $6,000.

While there is no Federal statue that I am aware of providing legal protection to same sex couples, the state of New Mexico does have such a statue on their books. Apparently a Christian law firm is going to appeal the decision.

What do you think? Should the decision stand? Should a Christian photographer be required to shoot something that violates their personal religious beliefs? Is the New Mexico ruling a good verdict and one that protects the rights of same sex couples and helps them to avoid discrimination? How would you feel if the couple had refused to photograph a couple because they were black or too old or handicapped? Would that change your opinion on the decision?

It’s an interesting question. I cannot sympathize with religiously-based homophobia — as far as I can tell, it’s a clear case of canon being manipulated to provide cover for simple bigotry. [See bottom of post for slightly more detail.]

But we inhabit a pluralist democracy — or at least we’re supposed to — and that means that as a nation, we’re supposed to have broad tolerance for speech, even speech that is offensive or, in some cases, hateful. But is photography speech? More specifically, is wedding photography speech? I’m not entirely sure.

It would obviously be wrong to compel a homophobic fine art photographer to change the content of their art, just as it would be wrong to forbid a private homophobe from expressing their views. On the other extreme, it would equally obviously be wrong for a restaurant to refuse to serve a gay couple food. It would be inappropriate to forbid editorial homophobia (as in an opinion column, an editorial, or a piece of editorial photojournalism), but it would not also be inappropriate to push a homophobic agenda in simple journalistic reporting.

I’m not sure which of these cases wedding photography most fits. My first inclination is to say that the wedding photographer is providing a service, much as a restaurant or a mechanic or what have you, and that therefore to refuse to photograph a commitment ceremony is straightforward discrimination.

But wedding photography is considered the intellectual property of the photographer, and I can’t say that I think this is an incorrect stance on the copyright issue; this seems to suggest that at some level, wedding photography is a form of expression, such that the photographer has rights over the use of those images; surely that also means they have some rights over the creation of them?

And — as is often the case when dealing with a possible conflict of freedoms — it’s useful to consider flipping the offensiveness polarity — would/should a lesbian photographer who specialized in commitment ceremonies (if there aren’t some, there should be — I’m sure there’s a market, at least in some regions) be liable if she refused to shoot a wedding at a church with conservative views on gay marriage?

Yeah, in that case, I’d have to say that the same rules and precedents should apply.

The reason I thought about that post, by the way, is that — in the course of responding to a strictly technical question in the D40 group on flickr where I’m an admin, I came across this guy’s site, in which he explains that he will only shoot your wedding if you agree to these conditions:

*Do you give me freedom to exercise discernment, to the extent of deleting photos of inappropriately dressed people? If you want to know what constitutes “inappropriate”, email me or look through my photos for “acceptable” clothing. It’s hard enough for me to practice godliness while editing photos of women with their chests half-exposed. It’s even harder for me to send those images to your relatives, knowing that my photos grieve my God whom I love. Thank you for being understanding. [Matt 5:28]

*Do you have any intention of supporting flagrant drunkeness at your wedding? Alcohol is not evil, but I cannot support willful abuse of it. The nature of my photography is to make things look good, and drunkeness is not good. I recognize that you cannot prevent everyone from bringing his secret stash and then overindulging. This issue applies more to couples providing or approving an “open tab” at the bar. The bible warns that all drunkards and wild partiers will have their part in the lake of fire – it is a sympton of spiritual death. [1 Cor 6:9-10, Rev 21:8] I’m not joking, I’m scared for you if you’re fine with that.

*Do you intend to merge wordly-themed music with your Christ-centered reception? Do you intend to dance to lyrics that God will punish the unsaved artists for writing? Worldliness is defined by the Apostle John as “lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life.” [1 John 5:15-16] Unfortunately, there goes most popular dance music. God says these things should not appear amogst His people even once in an approving way. Dancing is approving, and my photos represent a quiet approval.[Eph 5:3-5, 1 Pet 4:1-5]

If your heart says “Amen”, we’ll probably get on fine! Praise God!

This presents an interesting wrinkle, because this isn’t explicitly a refusal to serve certain groups (although it’s pretty obviously going to have that effect in practice), it’s a list of conditions required for providing services, and obviously the ability to set conditions is not something we can take away from service-providers. Indeed, “The nature of my photography is to make things look good, and drunkeness is not good,” is a point that I find totally unobjectionable. People expect their wedding photos to look good, and that’s a lot harder if everyone is so wasted they can’t stand straight.

But somewhere in there, a line is probably being crossed between the kinds of conditions that are legitimate and the kind that brings is into the realm of religious discrimination of the kind discussed above. Of course, it’s a different state, and a different case, and in any case there can’t possibly be such a shortage of qualified wedding photographers that this is really a practical problem for most people — but it does seem to add an interesting dimension to these issues.

[As promised, that slightly more detail]
I’m aware of the textual basis, but anyone who thinks that there is a single and/or plain reading of any scriptural text is tragically naive, and anyone who thinks that they know what that reading is guilty of the worst kind of pride — not the gay parade kind, the deadly sins kind. This is why the history of religion should be taught in schools — people need to know how our beliefs change over time, in order to have some perspective on the many contradictory teachings that are bandied about in the name of Jesus, Mohammad, and every other religious figure around. Incidentally, the history of science should be taught for similar reasons; a lot of folks who blithely dismiss religious viewpoints in favor of “science” have a similar lack of perspective about where their own beliefs come from.

Comments are closed.