A federal district court has ruled in favor of a Louisville photographer who sued the city in 2019, alleging that her equity ordinance violated her constitutional rights as a Christian because she could force them to agree to same-sex marriages.
In a 44-page ruling released Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Beaton, the court granted a request by Chelsey Nelson, owner of Chelsey Nelson Photography, for an injunction against the city’s ordinance, saying that the city could not use the law to compel her to photograph same-sex weddings or “otherwise express messages inconsistent with Nelson’s beliefs”, and could not prohibit her from advertising on her website stating that she only photographs ceremonies of the opposite sex.
Her lawsuit had claimed through the fairness ordinance the city was forcing her to promote and participate in ceremonies it opposed on religious grounds. And the judge agreed, saying in the decision that although she had never been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding, “state law protects her photography and associated blogs from the burdens the city seeks to impose.”
In 2020, U.S. District Judge Justin Walker previously blocked the city from enforcing the ordinance against Nelson and barred him from advertising his services on his website as exclusively for opposite-sex couples.
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In the latest ruling, Beaton said the equity ordinance does not “survive” scrutiny and cannot restrict First Amendment rights. Nelson’s refusal to photograph weddings of same-sex couples was born out of genuine religious belief, his order said, and the decision said the financial and legal charges Nelson faces for following his beliefs and violating the equity ordinance “are quite significant”.
In 1999, Louisville passed the Equity Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public facilities, and employment.
Nelson was represented in her lawsuit by The Alliance Defending Freedom, which said in a statement following the ruling that she was “a photographer who serves clients regardless of their background”, although in the lawsuit and additional statements, Nelson maintained that she would not work the same way. – sex weddings because of his “passion for marriage” and his insistence on organizing “ceremonies in a way that reflects my vision of marriage”.
Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Bryan Neihart said in a statement Wednesday that he was satisfied with the court’s decision.
“We are pleased the court agreed that the city violated Chelsey’s First Amendment rights. The court’s decision sends a clear and necessary message to every Kentuckian — and American — that each of us is free to speak and work according to our core beliefs,” Neihart said.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, meanwhile, said in a statement that he disagreed with the court’s decision and that city officials “will likely appeal this decision.”
“We are a city of compassion and appreciate the many ways our LGBTQ+ family contributes to our diverse community,” Fischer said. “The Louisville Metro government will continue to enforce its ordinance prohibiting anti-discriminatory practices to the fullest extent possible and will fight discrimination in all its forms.”
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Journalist Andrew Wolfson contributed to this story. Contact Ana Rocío Álvarez Bríñez at [email protected]; follow her on Twitter at @SoyAnaAlvarez