Virginia Photographer Permitted to Reject Same-Sex Couples After Lawsuit Settlement

Virginia Photographer Permitted to Reject Same-Sex Couples After Lawsuit Settlement

A legal settlement in Virginia will allow wedding photographer Bob Updegrove to refuse services for same-sex couples while publicizing that policy on his website. This comes after Updegrove filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's 2020 anti-discrimination law.

The settlement stipulates that Virginia will not enforce the Virginia Values Act against Updegrove in a manner that compels him to photograph same-sex weddings or bars him from advertising his refusal to do so. The state cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, which found that a Colorado anti-discrimination law violated a Christian web designer's free speech rights by forcing her to create websites for same-sex marriages.

“Like any other artist, I want to create photography that I believe in. I believe that marriage is meant to be a unique and sacrificial relationship between one man and one woman that points people to Jesus Christ’s sacrificial covenant with the church," wrote Updegrove in a 2020 Washington Post op-ed.

Updegrove's suit was backed by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom. They argued that requiring Updegrove to photograph same-sex weddings would violate his First Amendment rights and artistic freedom. As a wedding photographer, Updegrove claims his work qualifies as personal creative expression protected by the Constitution.

Advocates view the settlement as undercutting protections for LGBTQ people under Virginia's landmark Values Act. The law, enacted in 2020, made Virginia the first Southern state to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public spaces.

Critics contend Attorney General Jason Miyares essentially gutted the Values Act's nondiscrimination safeguards through the settlement. But Miyares asserts he is simply abiding by the 303 Creative precedent on free speech set by the Supreme Court.

Updegrove's case is part of a wave of preemptive lawsuits arguing that anti-discrimination laws infringe on religious liberty and free speech. The plaintiffs claim that without exemptions, these laws coercively compel creative professionals like photographers, bakers, and florists to participate in same-sex weddings against their beliefs.

Defenders characterize the suits as manufactured controversies to undermine civil rights laws, noting they are often filed before any actual denial of services occurs. But after 303 Creative, conservative legal challenges to state nondiscrimination policies may find receptive audiences in lower courts.

The Values Act not only bans anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but also discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and other protected classes. Violators can face fines up to $100,000.

This settlement represents another setback for LGBTQ protections in Virginia under Republican leadership. Last year, Governor Glenn Youngkin moved to roll back guidelines supporting transgender students in public schools. Critics accused him of violating the Values Act with these actions.

Updegrove has photographed weddings, as well as conservative political events. In his lawsuit, he said his faith compels him to believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The settlement permits Updegrove to continue operating his wedding photography business according to those beliefs.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I don't shoot for hire anymore but when I did, I'd do it for anyone as long as I was getting paid. Well, as long as what I was shooting was legal. :-) That said, I don't understand why anyone would want to hire someone that doesn't want to do the work for whatever reason. It's like forcing someone to cook or bake for you. Are you kidding? Certainly, the chef or baker isn't going to poison someone, but he or she could slip a fly wing or two into the mix and nobody would be the wiser.

As for photographing, would you expect a person forced to shoot for you to give 100%? I know how a good wedding photographer works; everything expected is in a contract. And I also know that most wedding photographers can be quite flexible when it comes to that contract. Do you really think that a photographer being forced to shoot a wedding is going to go that extra little bit to do something off script?

It's a perplexing problem with no easy solution.

Do you really think a bigot working at a lunch counter being forced to make a sandwich is going to go that extra little bit to make it delicious? And yet, in my lifetime, lunch counters, restaurants and other service businesses were forced to serve all customers, and the net effect was what we now call progress.

"It's a perplexing problem with no easy solution."
You can't change society all at once, but you can nudge it in the right direction over time.

A quick Google search reveals that even restaurants might refuse service to some customers.

Do tell...

I know a couple high end restaurants the require a 'suit' jacket be worn by males. No suit jacket, no service. ;-)

Pedophilic activity that harms minors is a CRIME. Being in a same-sex intimate relationship is not.

It's not like the photographer was advertising, "hey, we don't do work for gay couples." Chances are this guy took their money and then he realized after that it was same sex.

Congrats to Mr. Updegrove. For Bible-believing Christians this is an important ruling. The PPA has gotten into the act of printing images of same sex marriages and it is rather disappointing. The real question? Do I abide by the Bible and do what is right in God's eyes or do I abide by a man-made court. For a Christian the answer is simple. For the members of the LGBTQ crowd, you have the right to live the lifestyle of your choice and I fully support that right. However, as a Christian photographer I have the right to choose who I photograph. Feel free to look elsewhere for your photographic needs.

You should probably advertise this before they hire you.

Are members of the LGBTQ crowd the only people you will refuse service to?

Actually, I don't do weddings - I do believe a small business is allowed to choose its customer base however - As for LGBTQ wanting to do commercial business with me, I'm ok with that - It's wedding-specific I have issues with - I personally have no issues with gay or LGBTQ - However, the Bible clearly states having same sex sex is clearly a sin, therefore I trust that God know's more than my personal opinion allows for, so I automatically run with God's opinion, not my own - And for those that will state hatred is being called for here, you have no idea how wrong you are - I would suggest reading the Bible and discovering this is not a hate statement, it is a statement discussing sinful acts - You have the right to believe or not believe, that is up to you - Hey, they hung Christ on a cross... what chance do I have that people will agree with me?

In many places a small business is not allowed to discriminate who they will sell to or allow into their lunch counter, restaurant, hotel, shop, bakery, gas station, Uber car, etc. In return for the city licenses/permits etc to do business , the business is supposed to be open to "all" customers, including those in "protected classes".

That is a true statement However, I don't feel the government has the right to tell me what to do in my business - Ultimately I don't care what they say, I do what is feel is moral and right.

Ah, so your standard for whether it's OK to discriminate in your public business against a class of people is a document cobbled together by a bunch of guys about 1500 years ago? Really? What's next, Sharia Law? I, for one, shudder at the thought of "Bible-believing Christians" having any control whatsoever over my sex life or whether I can get a sandwich at the corner deli.

They have mental hospitals for people like you that think you only have the correct view.

Ah, so that would be a "yes", then.

Do you really think I should argue with Brian about whether I should be in a mental hospital?

Have no worry Mr Cornell - I have no desire to control your sex life or your choice of deli - Keep in mind there may be repercussions dependent on your beliefs at the time of your death - I also don't believe the government has the right to get involved in your sex life or deli, however, God does - You're welcome to think I'm a total fool if you wish...

Billy, do you abide by the bible in only wearing white, never cutting your hair or trimming your beard, never eating shellfish, never sitting anywhere that a menstruating woman has sat, never wearing garments of mixed fabrics, and all of the other things it says? Do you condemn left-handed people as sinners?

Why, do you think left-handed people are not sinners?

Ah, so that would be a "no" to the first question and a "yes" to the second.

Left-handed people must be far worse sinners than gay people, because the former is mentioned over two dozen times, and the latter... well, not really at all, unless you do an extremely poor job of translating one or two lines.

Okay, so please explain exactly why people who claim to be christians feel the need to discriminate against gay people and/or gay weddings.

So you're saying that if you were around homosexuals or people who marry children, you'd up slipping into homosexuality or you'd marry a child?

Where does the bible teach that homosexuality is a sin? What does it teach about child marriage?

So your interpretation of the bible is that it doesnt say anything directly but about child marriage, but you have made a personal moral decision that it's wrong. When it comes to your first cousin once removed, your interpretation of the bible is that it directly says his marriage to a man would be morally wrong, so that decision is out of your hands.

Every rational person is seeing the exact same thing in what youve written that I am, John. You're a really good, loving, supportive, moral person, except when it comes to a specific member of your family who is gay, but that's not your fault - it's what god tells you to do. Lots of other things are open to interpretation and choice, but not that. It's not your fault at all - it's your cousin's fault.

You said you won't attend the wedding of someone you say you love very much, so I know that much about your relationship with them. You judge that person's love for another human being as morally wrong, and rather than accepting that judgement of them as something you're doing, you absolve yourself of personal responsibility for your judgement because you tell yourself it's all because of someone else's interpretation of a book.

Next, we'll be able to refuse service to anybody on the basis of any bias because it "violates" our religious or free-speech rights. At a lunch counter: "I'm not gonna make a grilled cheese sandwich for no (insert ethnic epithet here) because God tells me they're inferior."
Who says history always marches forward?

It seems you can't discuss same sex relationships without someone mentioning the Bible. It's worth remembering many people (a growing number in recent years) aren't religious so why should we all be bound by the words of a text plenty of us don't follow or believe in? I'm not disputing this photographer's right to refuse to photograph people based on his beliefs but homosexuality being a sin cannot be some sort of overriding view and is only relevant to religious people, no one else. Laws of the land aren't bound to follow religious views either.

'For those of us who try to follow the Bible, why wouldn't we mention it!?'

Because, as I've said, there are plenty of people who aren't religious and in the context of same sex relationships, calling that a sin simply because it's written in the Bible isn't a valid argument.

No, "sin" is defined by a dictionary. PEOPLE define what constitutes sin. The Bible is a moldy old tome cobbled together over centuries by a bunch of guys who probably couldn't even agree with each other, and it does not reflect the moral or spiritual leanings of the vast majority of humanity. It certainly does not have any legitimate power to grant businesses license to discriminate.

Subjective is worthless? Why are you interested in photography, then?

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