– A Christian photographer who declines clients because she does not believe in same-sex marriage cannot be sued under certain anti-discrimination laws on the ground she does not run a storefront, a Wisconsin court has said.
“The court’s orders bring this case to a close, and we are pleased that Amy and many other artists in Madison and throughout the state can pursue their work without fear of government censorship,” said Jonathan Scruggs, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.
Scruggs said the judgement has “vital implications” for artistic freedom.
The case concerned Amy Lawson, sole owner of the Amy Lynn Photography Studio. Due to her Evangelical Christian beliefs about marriage, she will not take photographs at same-sex wedding ceremonies.
After reports of other photographers being sued for not photographing same-sex couples’ ceremonies, she stopped taking all wedding business out of concern her position would break the law.
In March she filed a challenge to a city ordinance and state law, asking a judge to bar enforcement and to declare them violations of the U.S. Constitution. She sought reimbursement for legal fees and attorney expenses, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
She said it was unfair that the Madison ordinance and state laws giving equal protection for characteristics like sexual orientation made it difficult for her to conduct business according to her faith.
A county circuit court judge, together with government officials, agreed on a court order saying that the laws do not apply to Lawson on the grounds she does not operate a storefront; and because she does not have a physical storefront (her photography studio is operated out of her private apartment), her business “is not a public place of accommodation or amusement,” to which the anti-discrimination laws apply.
“The court found – and the city and state have now agreed – that creative professionals without storefronts can’t be punished under public accommodation laws for exercising their artistic freedom because those laws simply don’t apply to them,” said Scruggs, her attorney.
“It means that government officials must allow such professionals anywhere in the city and state the freedom to make their own decisions about which ideas they will promote with their artistic expression,” he said.
The decision follows years of controversy over the legal implications of recognizing same-sex unions as marriages. Event venues, wedding cake bakers, florists and others have faced lawsuits for declining to serve same-sex wedding ceremonies, while some employers have changed internal policy to recognize same-sex unions as marriages.