The Freedom to Say “I Do” and the Freedom to Say “I Won’t”

The recent decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court forcing photographer Elaine Huguenin to sell her services to Vanessa Willock wanting her to take pics of her wedding to another woman strikes me as an appalling intrusion on her liberty. The right to marry ought not include the right to force people to participate in your festivities. Whether Elaine wins or loses her appeal, the legal proceedings will cost a lot of expensive lawyer time and plenty of emotional distress.

It appears that a likely cornerstone of her case may be a claim to first-amendment protection of artistic expression. This is the sort of convoluted cleverness that delights lawyers and nauseates the rest of us, but obviously “any port in a storm” is a persuasive argument for an embattled defendant. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that anyone who’s ever been subjected to someone else’s wedding photos is going to buy into the argument that they represent artistic expression. The same doubtful artistic status applies to the providers of typical wedding-reception music. And if you’re a caterer, don’t even bother claiming first-amendment protection for your hideous cakes.

Fortunately for any provider of wedding-related services there is a simple and effective solution to the problem of being forced to offer  those services for ceremonies you disapprove of. That solution is to set a price that is high enough either to induce unwanted clients to find another provider or to induce you to put your objections aside for the extra cash. This is eminently fair to all parties. Of course, it may be viewed by some judge with limited cognitive skills as an illegal form of price discrimination. Which is a damn shame, because it would immediately solve the problem by allowing gay couples to find all the gay-friendly photographers, musicians, and caterers through the simple expedient of checking prices.

Whether or not it is legal, this solution ought to be legal because it’s far better for all concerned than the possible consequences of forcing people to provide their services in situations that offend them. After all, while the government can force Elaine Huguenin to take the pics at Vanessa Willock’s wedding, it can’t enforce the level of quality she provides. Suppose Elaine actually shows up and is so distressed by the proceedings that her usual artistic eye and steady hand abandon her. The happy couple’s photographic record of their special day might turn out to be full of unintentional photo bombs by servers, pics of people sitting amidst piles of soiled napkins and dirty champagne flutes, and slightly out-of-focus portraits of the newlyweds. Or maybe the saxophonist in the band will find the scene before him so off-putting that he simply loses his usual tone. And let’s not even consider the horror of a dropped wedding cake.

An old saying that Nana Silicon taught me when I was a tot was, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” That also holds for wedding photographers, which is something Vanessa Willock really ought to think about before asking the state to compel a resistant Elaine Huguenin to photograph what I am sure will be a lovely ceremony. Because that ceremony would be far lovelier if it were recorded by someone who was there voluntarily.

Freedom is a beautiful thing all on its own, after all.

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Filed under Freedom, Simple Solutions to Difficult Problems, Social Justice

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