Ruling: Art falls under free speech in wedding photography lawsuit

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A Louisville photographer cannot be compelled to photograph same-sex weddings because photography is an art and falls under free speech, a federal judge ruled this week. Wedding photographer Chelsey Nelson has filed a lawsuit against the city of Louisville, Kentucky over a local equity ordinance that prevents discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation. The photographer, who is a Christian, sued claiming the ordinance would require her to photograph same-sex weddings, which “conflicts with my religious beliefs”.

On Tuesday, a notice from the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky separated Nelson’s work from other services such as restaurants. Why? The courts said a previous Supreme Court case had established precedent that Nelson’s photographs and blogs could qualify as speech.

[Read: 6 Copyright Cases You Should Be Familiar With]

“Thus, while Louisville may require restaurants, hotels, and stores to provide services regardless of the views of the owners or the legal status of their customers,” the opinion and court order state that “The government cannot force singers, writers, or photographers to articulate messages they don’t support. Because speech is categorically different under the Federal Constitution, local laws must also treat it differently.

The court granted Nelson’s summary judgment motion, ruling that the city could not use the ordinance to compel the photographer to provide her services for the same-sex ceremonies (due to the decision that her photography falls under the freedom of ‘expression). The court also said the city could not ban the photographer from expressing her beliefs on her website and social media.

[Read: Photographer Sues Virginia Over Anti-Discrimination Law]

Nelson’s case is not the first to grapple with the provision of services to same-sex couples. In 2018, the Supreme Court sided with a baker who turned down a same-sex couple looking for a wedding cake. However, last year a New York court dismissed a similar lawsuit, with the courts noting that the religious ceremony was for the couple and guests only and vendors were not required to participate in religious activities.

In a report, Louisville Maj. Greg Fischer called the decision disappointing. “We are a city of compassion and appreciate the many ways our LGBTQ+ family contributes to our diverse community. The Louisville Metropolitan Government will continue to enforce its ordinance prohibiting anti-discriminatory practices to the fullest extent possible and will fight discrimination in all its forms. We are evaluating this decision with our attorney and will likely appeal this decision. »



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