Christian photographer sues over ordinance requiring promotion of same-sex weddings

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A Louisville photographer claims a government ordinance forces her to photograph and promote same sex weddings. Now, she's suing.

A Louisville, Ky. wedding photographer and blogger says a city “fairness ordinance” is forcing her to “violate the law, forsake her faith, or close her business,” her attorney says, and she is filing suit.

According to WHAS-11 in Louisville, Chelsey Nelson’s lawsuit filed in federal court claims Metro Government Ordinance 92.05, known as the Fairness Ordinance, first established in Louisville and since implemented in 14 other places throughout Kentucky, would force her to photograph and write about same-sex weddings, in conflict with her religious beliefs.

The ordinance in question prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nelson owns Chelsey Nelson Photography LLC.

The lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom against Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government and the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, claims Nelson is also not able to publicly explain to clients or potential clients on her website and social media why she participates only in wedding ceremonies between one man and one woman.

“All artists should be free to choose the messages that they promote and that’s the freedom that Chelsey wants for herself as well as everyone, even people who don’t agree with her on marriage,” Kate Anderson, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said.

“That’s a clear violation of the First Amendment, where you’re allowing the government to pick and choose what people can say and what they cannot say,” Anderson said. According to Anderson, the ADF is seeking a preliminary ruling that would prevent Metro Government from enforcing the ordinance, she explained.

Sam Marcosson, a professor at the Brandeis School of Law, said no one has filed a complaint against Nelson yet charging her with discrimination, which could weaken the case.

“What she’s claiming is the prospect that the law could be applied has the effect of infringing on her free speech because she is afraid,” he said.

A bigger issue, according to Marcosson, is the argument that her religious freedom is already protected under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the local Fairness Ordinance comply with.

Despite these potential roadblocks, Marcosson said the lawsuit is not frivolous in his opinion.

“You do have at least questions to be raised about how to balance the First Amendment concerns with the equality concerns,” he said. “So there is an issue here that we have to resolve and the courts will have to look at.”

The full lawsuit can be read here.

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