Right To Contract vs. “Human Rights”
Eugene Volokh writes about a case in New Mexico that demonstrates the extent to which the right to decide who you do business with has been eroded in the name of so-called anti-discrimination laws:
Elaine Huguenin co-owns Elane Photography with her husband. The bulk of Elane’s work is done by Elaine, though she subcontracts some of the work some of the time. Elane refused to photograph Vanessa Willock’s same-sex commitment ceremonies, and just today the New Mexico Human Rights Commission held that this violated state antidiscrimination law. Elane has been ordered to pay over $6600 in attorney’s fees and costs.
I haven’t seen any written statement of reasons, but the order must implicitly rest on two interpretations of state law: (1) This sort of photography company constitutes a “public accommodation,” defined by state law “any establishment that provides or offers its services, facilities, accommodations or goods to the public, but does not include a bona fide private club or other place or establishment that is by its nature and use distinctly private.” (2) A refusal to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony constitutes sexual orientation discrimination, which New Mexico law forbids. These may or may not be sensible interpretations of the statutory text. But the result seems to me to likely violate the First Amendment (though there’s no precedent precisely on point).
As Volokh points out, photography is an art form and the Human Rights Commission decision effectively says that the state can tell you what kind of art you can and cannot create. He goes on to point out, correctly I think, that several U.S. Supreme Court opinions make it clear that the state cannot compel you to endorse points of view that you disagee with and, arguably, by photographing a committment ceremony she finds personally offensive, this photographer would be endorsing something she does not choose to endorse.
More than that, though, this case points out the extent to which so-called “economic” rights, such as the right to decide who you do business with, have been eroded over the past 50 years. There is no reason that Ms. Huguenin should be forced to take on a job she doesn’t want to take. What if, instead of citing the same-sex nature of the ceremony, she has simply said she was too busy to take on the project ? Presumably, that would have been a legitimate reason to turn it down, and if that’s the case, then I see no reason why she should be forced to work for these people just because she doesn’t approve of their lifestyle.