Kentucky photographer Chelsey Nelson treasures the personal relationships she builds with each of her clients. She is likely the person her clients spend the most time with on their wedding day and her mission is to capture each joyful and meaningful moment on her clients’ special day.
Because of this, Chelsey invites potential clients into her home to get to know them and their priorities. Over chocolate chip cookies, she helps her clients craft a timeline for their wedding as they prepare for the big day. They then schedule an engagement session to ensure that they have some great photos and are comfortable in front of her camera before their wedding day.
That close relationship allows Chelsey to learn about her clients and the things that make their wedding day unique. For instance, one couple she photographed got married in the same church as the bride’s parents had 32 years earlier.
It’s those personal details that Chelsey tries to reflect and feature in her photography. She also loves writing about those details and celebrating her clients’ wedding on her blog when she shares her clients’ pictures – it gives each post a personal touch and a nod to the relationship she and her clients have built.
Chelsey invests so much personally and artistically into each of the weddings that she photographs and blogs about that she wants to make sure she can fully participate and celebrate with each couple. As a Christian, she believes that marriage is a unique union between one man and one woman. She also believes that everything she does in life must honor God and that includes her business. So, as a wedding photographer and blogger, she can only use her artistic talents to participate in and celebrate weddings that are consistent with her religious beliefs.
Of course, Chelsey loves and serves clients who come to her regardless of who they are. There are numerous ways Chelsey’s photography studio would serve clients with their photography needs, whether they are straight or gay or bisexual. But there are some messages she can’t promote for anyone. For example, she cannot photograph a Star Wars themed wedding for anyone, no matter who asks, because Chelsey thinks that celebrating a wedding with that theme undermines the seriousness of marriage. For Chelsey, it’s all about what she is asked to celebrate, not who asks for it.
But that distinction is lost on city officials in Louisville.
Officials in Louisville interpret a local ordinance to force Chelsey to photograph and blog about same-sex weddings — to celebrate that view of marriage — because she does so for weddings between one man and one woman. If Chelsey declines, she faces substantial penalties: damages, court orders, and required compliance reports. The law even prohibits Chelsey from directly explaining to clients and potential clients how her religious beliefs on marriage affect the photographs she can and cannot take. This includes expressing those beliefs simply on her studio’s website and social media sites!
That’s why, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Chelsey has filed a lawsuit against this ordinance.
Chelsey serves all people, but she cannot use her artistic talents to celebrate every event or express every message. And the government should not be able to punish her for that.
Chelsey describes being part of someone’s wedding day as if she were sitting in on Christmas morning with their family. There’s a feeling of expectation and excitement – and she feels all those emotions alongside them.
Through wedding photography, Chelsey celebrates her clients’ marriage. And she works to communicate that through the pictures she takes and the words she writes online. Chelsey wants her clients to be able to look back on their wedding photos and remember the joy and commitment of that day.
But Chelsey knows that it’s only doing clients a disservice if she is forced to participate in and photograph a wedding that she cannot celebrate in good conscience. And if she cannot wholeheartedly celebrate her clients’ wedding, she wants the freedom to decline to participate in that event.
That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential to our society. If we want the freedom to live and work peacefully according to our beliefs, we must extend that same freedom to others – even if we disagree.
That’s the principle Chelsey is standing up for. And in doing so, she is defending not only her own freedom, but freedom for us all.
Lorie Smith could use some clarity—as could creative professionals across the country.
The court ruled 2-1 that the state of Colorado can force Lorie to design and publish websites promoting messages that violate her religious beliefs.