Bill Murchison

A news story out of New Mexico reminds us how hard it has lately become to be an American: a traditional American, I should say, concerned with trivial stuff like conscience and faith and personal integrity.

New Mexico's Supreme Court last week declared a mom and pop business, called Elane Photography, had violated the state human rights act by declining to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony seven years ago. Why did the owners decline? On account of their belief in the ancient norm of heterosexual marriage.

Never mind, said the court: "To allow discrimination based on conduct so closely correlated with sexual orientation would severely undermine the purpose" of the human rights act, which disallows refusal of a public service on account of "race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation or physical or mental handicap."

As it happens, Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin, owners of the photo shop, don't believe in gay marriage; they didn't jump for joy at the idea of putting their professional stamp on memories of an occasion not far removed from that ever-trendier cause. So now they're outcasts of a sort: offenders against the social conscience of the state of New Mexico. It's their tough luck to affirm an institutional understanding as old as the human race. We've moved on, it seems. According to whom? According, for now, to New Mexico's Supreme Court, unless a federal court should intervene on First Amendment grounds.

Ah, the First Amendment! Freedom of conviction! La-dee-da! Depends on how the larger society arrays particular rights in the context of other particular rights.

To disentangle the cause of gay rights from the cause of civil rights used to be easy; that ceased a while back. As the gay rights cause gains stature and success, its exponents move to require not just tolerance but public support of it. In concurring with his judicial brethren as to the Huguenins' culpability, Justice Richard Bosson drove all the way to the one-yard line with an argument for forced conformity, saying that in the world of commerce, "the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different."

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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