Federal district court Judge Benjamin Beaton has ruled in favor of a Louisville, Kentucky wedding photographer who said her religious beliefs should allow her to refuse service to same-sex couples, even though her refusal would violate the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. The Trump administration had supported the photographer in the case, and the judge was appointed by Donald Trump.
The city has said it will likely appeal the judge’s ruling.
The case in question involves Chelsey Nelson, a photographer who said that shooting a same-sex marriage would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs and her First Amendment rights.
Nelson preemptively sued the city over its non-discrimination “fairness ordinance” in 2019. The ordinance requires all businesses to treat customers equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Before filing her lawsuit, no same-sex couple had even asked her to work at their wedding.
Nelson herself said that her belief that “God created marriage to be an exclusive covenant between one man and one woman [affects] every aspect of her life… her business, her art, and her creativity.” She added that she’d “decline any request” to work for “a same-sex wedding, polygamous wedding, or an open marriage wedding because creating artwork promoting these events would violate Chelsey’s religious and artistic beliefs.”
Beaton granted Nelson’s request to issue an injunction against the ordinance. His injunction order said that the city couldn’t use its ordinance to compel her to photograph same-sex weddings or “otherwise express messages inconsistent with Nelson’s beliefs,” U.S. News reports.
“We’re pleased the court agreed that the city violated Chelsey’s First Amendment rights,” said Bryan Neihart, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the SPLC-designated hate group that served as Nelson’s legal counsel and the legal counsel in numerous cases seeking to erode LGBTQ civil rights.
“The court’s decision sends a clear and necessary message to every Kentuckian — and American — that each of us is free to speak and work according to our deeply held beliefs,” Neihart said.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) disagreed with Beaton’s ruling and said that city attorneys would likely appeal.
“We are a city of compassion and we appreciate the many ways our LGBTQ+ family contributes to our diverse community,” Fischer said. “Louisville Metro Government will continue to enforce to the fullest extent possible its ordinance prohibiting anti-discriminatory practices and will fight against discrimination in any form.”
In 2020, Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a “statement of interest” supporting Nelson’s stance. The DOJ’s filing was unsurprising seeing that, in July 2018, the DOJ announced the formation of the Religious Liberty Task Force to allow religious discrimination in national civil rights cases. The Task Force was the brainchild of anti-LGBTQ hate groups.
In June 2018, the DOJ also filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court siding with the anti-gay baker in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In its brief, the DOJ said wedding services are basically forms of “art” and that the government has no compelling interest to stop societal homophobia.
The problem with defining publicly offered business services as “artistic acts of self-expression” and “free speech” is that numerous other businesses and employees could say that their own professions — such as medicine, training, or child care — are all “arts” that shouldn’t be extended to individuals whose lives contradict their own religious beliefs.
Seeing as six of the current nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court are current or former members of the Federalist Society, they have the majority power to uphold the Society’s belief in religious-based discrimination. The Justice may do so if a case like this ever reaches the nation’s highest court.