Virginia Photographer Free to Decline Same-Sex Weddings

Virginia Photographer Free to Decline Same-Sex Weddings

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 303 Creative v. Elenis ruling, a federal lawsuit has settled favorably on behalf of another artistic person, Bob Updegrove. The Virginia photographer is no longer obligated to take pictures of same-sex weddings and can publicly share his religious beliefs on his studio’s website.

In 2020, Updegrove filed suit to challenge a newly enacted anti-discrimination law that forced him to offer and provide his photography services to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. The Virginia Values Act collided with Updegrove’s First Amendment rights and artistic freedom.

Additionally, the law barred the business owner from sharing his faith values of marriage between a man and a woman on his website. An initial violation of the law could cost up to $50,000, followed by a $100,000 fine per additional violation.

“Like any other artist, I want to create photography that I believe in,” Updegrove wrote in a 2020 Washington Post op-ed. “As a Christian, I believe that God calls His disciples to honor Him with the work of our hands and to communicate the truth in everything that we create. …

“With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, I filed suit to vindicate my right to free speech and to freely exercise my religion,” added Updegrove, who has shot hundreds of weddings for three decades.

After Updegrove appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, his lawsuit was temporarily suspended due to the pending decision of the U.S. Supreme Court case, 303 Creative v. Elenis.

In June, the Supreme Court overruled a Colorado law that forced 303 Creative’s Christian web designer to create websites for same-sex couples. Afterward, Attorney General Jason Miyares agreed to follow the 303 Creative precedent and settle the dispute with Updegrove.

“The Supreme Court made clear … that the government cannot compel people like Mr. Updegrove to speak contrary to their conscience,” Miyares said in a statement. “As Attorney General, my highest duty is to the federal Constitution.” 

In a win for Christian businesses, Alliance Defending Freedom showed that companies can decline creative work that does not align with their beliefs. Through the verdicts in Updegrove’s and 303 Creative’s cases, more Christian artists should be protected from anti-discrimination laws in the future.

“Free speech if for everyone,” said ADF Legal Counsel Johannes Widmalm-Dephonse. “As the Supreme Court recently affirmed in 303 Creative, the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe.

“This victory for Bob underscores how the 303 Creative decision will protect countless Americans from government censorship and coercion,” Widmalm-Dephonse continued. “The U.S. Constitution protects his freedom to express his views as he continues to serve clients of all backgrounds and beliefs.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom

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