Monday, June 08, 2009

Truth And Triumph: The Huguenins Vs. The New Mexico Human Rights Commission And Its Relevancy To Anchorage's Proposed Gay Nondiscrimination Ordinance

The battle over Anchorage's proposed gay nondiscrimination ordinance, now known as AO 2009-64(S), which represents the substitute version submitted by Anchorage Mayor Matt Claman, continues to be fought out on the pages of the Anchorage Daily News. And on Sunday June 7th, 2009, two of the heavyweights stepped into the ring to slug it out.

First up was Matt Claman himself. In his June 7th Compass column, Claman defends his promotion of the ordinance, claiming the the city's Equal Rights Commission recently reviewed Anchorage's equal rights law, and identified discrimination based on sexual orientation and veteran status as gaps in our equal rights protection. He explained that he removed veteran status from the ordinance at the request of the Anchorage Military and Veteran Affairs Commission because of concerns with how the ordinance would affect special discounts and other benefits that veterans now enjoy, but remains committed to ensuring equal rights for veterans. He also reiterated the religious protections built into the ordinance.

As a counterweight, ADN published another June 7th Compass column by the Alaska Family Council's Jim Minnery, who reiterated his opposition to the proposed ordinance (Dr. Jerry Prevo's opposition is also documented on SOS Anchorage). Minnery continues to assert the right of citizens to operate their business within the Municipality of Anchorage under the dictates of their own conscience. Just as another business owner with a differing set of values has the same right to not have to surrender their First Amendment rights at the market gate in operating their Christian bookstore, run their condominium complex or make hiring decisions at their private school. Minnery also cites the lack of any evidence of systemic or even isolated incidents of gays and lesbians being turned down for loans, housing or jobs based on their sexual orientation as proof that this is a solution looking for a problem.

Furthermore, Minnery suggests that this is about a movement among pro-gay activists to re-define "tolerance" to permit the persecution and prosecution of anyone who won't be coerced into fully and openly endorsing their agenda. Christians and others of different faiths are now being targeted across the country who decline to endorse, facilitate, or participate in activities that violate their conscience or religious convictions.

Minnery also cited the case of Elaine and Jon Huguenin, the photographers in New Mexico who were successfully sued by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission on behalf of a lesbian couple who supposedly wanted their pictures taken by the couple, but who were turned down by the couple because of their religious beliefs. Minnery cited the Truth and Triumph website as a source of their story, but because no hyperlink was posted, it can be a bit difficult to find.

The Truth and Triumph website is located HERE. And the Huguenins posted their account of their ordeal. It began with a simple e-mail request from the lesbian couple to Elaine's website: "We are researching potential photographers for our commitment ceremony ... This is a same-gender ceremony. If you are open to helping us celebrate our day we'd like to receive pricing information. Thanks."

In response, Elaine, the co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, NM, promptly replied: "As a company, we photograph traditional weddings, engagements, seniors, and several other things such as political photographs and singers' portfolios. Thank you for your interest in our site." It appears that Elaine's intent was to gently steer them away from their business without directly saying No.

And that seemingly was the end of the issue, until suddenly out of left field two months later, the lesbian couple fired off a return e-mail: "Thanks for your response of September 21st [2006]. I'm a bit confused, however, by the wording of your response. Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?" Surprised, Elaine tried again to explain: "Sorry if our last response was a confusing one. Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings, but again, thanks for checking out our site!"

Elaine recalls her mindset. "I thought it was just a clarifying question. I answered it, and we were done. I didn't apologize for what I said. I wanted to stand by it, but I also wanted to be polite. So, quite a lot of thought went into it. But it never crossed my mind that it would come back to haunt me like this."

Boy, was she ever wrong! Two months later, the haunting began with a phone call from the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, who informed Elaine that one of the lesbians, Vanessa Willock, had filed a complaint against them and advised them to either find a lawyer or go through mediation. The complaint charged Elaine with violating the state's "sexual orientation discrimination" law. By declining to photograph her commitment ceremony, the lesbian couple contended, Elaine was discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation - in effect, they implied, no different than a white diner owner refusing to serve African-Americans at his lunch counter.

Elaine and Jon began calling lawyers - and the first to reply was Jordan Lorence from the Alliance Defense Fund. He explained that what the Huguenins were facing was typical of a growing legal persecution nationwide against Christians who decline to endorse, facilitate, or participate in workplace activities that violate their conscience or religious convictions. Even though the opposition contends that the issue is merely "public accomodation", Lorence maintains the real human rights violation here is of Elaine's First Amendment right to submit her talent to the dictates of her own conscience. He referred to it as a "compelled speech case", in which the state is effectively saying, "We'll punish you if you don't promote this message, whether you agree with it or not". Lorence also says there’s an authoritarianism that leftists promote that they are blind to, because they view it as therapeutic. If we punish a bigot, we’re just helping them see the light — so this is a purifying thing. They don’t view this as something that’s reprehensible under our cultural and legal tradition.

Lorence further explains that, across the country, there's a move among pro-gay activists to persecute and prosecute anyone who won't be coerced into fully and openly endorsing their agenda. And common sense doesn't dampen the desire for vengeance. Ironically, same-sex marriages are not recognized in New Mexico - so the Huguenins are being punished for not endorsing something the state itself doesn't endorse. And the lesbians themselves admit they had no trouble finding another photographer, which makes their suit nothing more than deliberate targeting. Nevertheless, despite the Huguenins' consistent testimony in court and a solid legal case, the Human Rights Commission ruled against the couple three months later in April 2008, fining them $6,637.94 and ordering them to provide services to queers in the future even if it violates their conscience. The actual ruling can be viewed HERE. The Alliance Defense Fund, which has generously agreed to pick up all the costs of the litigation, has already appealed the case to the New Mexico District Court. Other sources incorporated into this account include OneNewsNow, Focus on the Family, and a contrasting view by BoxTurtleBulletin (who even questioned the ruling)

The point being made by Jim Minnery, Dr. Jerry Prevo, and others opposing AO 2009-64(S) is that the New Mexico case could happen here in Anchorage as well if the ordinance is passed. Other much more frivolous test cases could ensue - for example, Home Depot could be sued by someone for not selling Big Macs, even though Home Depot is not a fast-food outlet. The suit undoubtedly would be thrown out, but Home Depot would still have to spend time and money responding - to the detriment of their stockholders. This is why pro-family activists must show up at the Assembly meeting on June 9th; the meeting begins at 5:00 P.M., but testimony probably won't begin until 6:00 P.M.

Even if the Assembly passes this ordinance, our opposition will have been worthwhile. We will have the satisfaction of knowing that we struck out swinging, and didn't strike out looking. We will never surrender our beliefs, and will continue to promote them vigorously regardless of the cost. We do not fear offending people; indeed, I am willing to risk offending ALL of humanity so long as I do not offend God. Six billion puny imperfect mortal beings cannot withstand the mighty Creator of the universe. As the Muslims would say, "Allahu akbar!"

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