By Douglas H. Napier“If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little—even at the risk of being heroes.”
—Sir Thomas More, A Man For All Seasons
It’s been nearly a decade since Jon and Elaine Huguenin left home and family to make their life in the West. They moved to Albuquerque and opened a photography business, specializing in weddings. Jon handled the finances, Elaine was the artist—and was good enough at it to make her reputation, in just a few years, as one of the best in the city. Hers, people saw, was much more than just a professional grasp of light and focus and composition. She had … the gift.
One day, she opened an email from a woman asking if she‘d be willing to use her photographic artistry to “celebrate” a same-sex “commitment ceremony.” Elaine said no. She didn’t make ugly comments. She didn’t outline the biblical doctrines that motivate her beliefs. She didn’t question the morality of people whose beliefs differed from her own. She simply clarified what she did shoot—“traditional weddings, engagements, seniors”—and thanked the woman for her interest.
Soon after, the Huguenins learned that the state was investigating their company for sexual orientation discrimination. In 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found their company guilty, ordering them to pay nearly $7,000 in attorneys’ fees. Three other courts approved that verdict before the U.S. Supreme Court, this spring, declined to hear her case.
Across these eight tumultuous years, the Huguenins have suffered in many ways—all because Elaine politely declined to use her artistic talents to “celebrate” and commemorate something she doesn’t believe in, but to which lots of other local photographers would have happily contributed their artistry.
And make no mistake—it wasn’t her camera, but her creative talents that the lesbian couple who contacted Elaine wanted to enlist. They weren’t asking her to adjust a lens and push a button, but to invest a part of her heart and soul in something that violates her conscience, and her deepest biblical convictions of right and wrong.
Elaine is a Christian. She understands that marriage and its ceremonies should reflect the teachings of the Bible, which says God ordained marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That understanding is not tangential to her art—it is the essence of it.
A great photographer uses her imagination, her informed observations, her personal understanding to capture not only a scene, or a moment … but the life within that moment. Its meaning, its themes, its true character. That’s why any great photograph is as much a window into the soul of the photographer as it is into those people preserved in the picture. In trying to force Elaine to take their pictures, the couple was asking her to sacrifice the very elements that made her talents so uniquely attractive to them. In suing her, they penalized her for being what they wanted in the first place.
And now, the courts of America are allowing them to do this: to tinker with the soul of an artist, in the hopes of bringing that same art out of a very different soul.
In an opinion supporting the ruling of the New Mexico Supreme Court against Elaine, one of that court’s justices said that giving up the right to live according to one’s conscience and religious beliefs is “the price of citizenship” in America today.
The price is going up. To secure Christians’ endorsement of their choices, those pressing the new social agenda are willing to suppress human dignity, rewrite the Constitution, erase religious liberty, and close down our businesses. In time, if we persist in resisting, even these will not be enough. On the other hand, if we yield … the price will continue to rise.
Accommodation, like freedom, never comes cheap. Which is why we must stand fast—and, like the Huguenins, risk being heroes.