The National Legal Foundation (NLF) this week filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief on behalf of a Christian photographer in Loudon County, Virginia, in the of Updegrove v. Herring. The photographer, Bob Updegrove, believes that God equips people with gifts to create art that reflects God’s beauty, artistry, and truth, and that he wants to honor God in everything he does. He believes that God designed marriage to be a lifelong union between one man and one woman and that this design is God’s gift for people of all faiths, races, and backgrounds. It violates his faith to associate with and to lend his services to celebrate a marriage that is inconsistent with God’s design.
Bob’s convictions led him to refuse photographing same-sex wedding ceremonies. He is willing to serve gays individually, as well as companies owned by members of the LGBT community, but he cannot in good conscience use his creative skills in a ceremony that is against God’s will and design. Because Virginia law now subjects people who refuse to serve same-sex weddings with civil prosecution and large fines, Bob filed a lawsuit in federal court to prohibit the Commonwealth from prosecuting him.
In its amicus brief, NLF argued that a wedding is a communal, expressive event that conveys a message by the couple, the State, and the vendors serving the wedding. The couple expresses their message by choosing where the wedding will be held (a church, city hall, outside flower garden, or even Las Vegas), who will officiate (a minister, priest, or judge) and what will be said, whether a sacrament will be part of the service (communion or mass), and the message on the cake. The couple itself communicates a message by their genders – are they a man and woman, two men, or two women? The State expresses its approval of the wedding by issuing a wedding license, and the vendors serving the wedding also necessarily express their approval by participating in the wedding and any reception.
The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects Americans’ right to free speech, free exercise of religion, and freedom of assembly and association. The government cannot restrict these rights unless it has a “compelling state interest” that is “narrowly tailored” to serve that interest. Here, the government may convince a court that it has a “compelling interest” in eliminating “discriminatory” conduct, but the government could more narrowly tailor the law by exempting those whose consciences prohibit them from serving. An African-American baker who serves Caucasians may not be forced to provide a cake with a message with which the baker disagrees for a Ku Klux Klan fundraiser. Similarly, a Jewish restauranteur who serves people of all faiths should not be forced against his wishes to serve a Muslim group seeking the overthrow of Israel. The same should apply to Christian wedding vendors who object on conscience grounds to same-sex weddings. There are other vendors available to serve the couple.