Trump-Appointed Judge: Constitution Allows Photographer To Reject Gay Couples

Screengrab / U.S. Senator Chris Coons / YouTube


US District Judge Justin Walker ruled on Friday that Chelsey Nelson cannot be compelled to photograph same-sex wedding.

A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump “has blocked the city of Louisville from enforcing its Fairness Ordinance against a photographer who says she can only shoot pictures of weddings between a man and a woman because of her Christian religious beliefs,” according to The Courier Journal.

  • U.S. District Judge Justin Walker ruled on Friday that Chelsey Nelson cannot be compelled to photograph same-sex weddings, nor can she be punished by Metro Government for “advertising on her website or social media that she only photographs and blogs about opposite-sex ceremonies,” the outlet reported.
  • Walker wrote in his opinion: “America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to. The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech. It demands both."

“Just as gay and lesbian Americans ‘cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,'" Walker wrote, quoting the opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges [which legalized same-sex marriage], “neither can Americans ‘with a deep faith that requires them to do things passing legislative majorities might find unseemly or uncouth.'"

  • The Courier Journal wrote that “Walker issued a preliminary injunction for Nelson, saying she is likely to win a lawsuit in which she protested restrictions under the Fairness Ordinance, which protects members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination.”
  • Walker said that Nelson’s photography is art and that “art is speech,” noting that the government cannot force such speech when it violates the speaker’s religious or political beliefs.

Although photography is wordless, Walker said, “so too is refusing to salute the flag or marching in a parade, both of which the Supreme Court has said are protected forms of speech.”

  • The city’s lawyers had argued that laws targeting discrimination do not violate the First Amendment, The Courier Journal reported.

The American Civil Liberties said in a brief that if Nelson could refuse service to same-sex couples on First Amendment grounds, another photographer could turn away interracial or interfaith couples, or Black or Muslim couples.

Louisville passed the Fairness Ordinance in 1999, according to the report “which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations and employment.”

The law “requires that companies serve LGBTQ customers and refrain from advertising that they won’t serve them.”

Paying homage to the struggle to enact those laws, Walker said that “a generation ago, when 10 Louisvillians founded the Fairness Campaign, discrimination against gay and lesbian people was legal in every Kentucky city," but that with “extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit — battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention in their daily lives, the Fairness Campaign and its allies changed that.”

Towleroad noted that “Trump first nominated Walker, a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to serve as a judge for the Western District of Kentucky last year” and he received Senate confirmation “despite the American Bar Association rating him “not qualified,” citing his lack of ‘any significant trial experience.’”

Walker, 37, once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. During Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation process, Walker gave more than 70 TV interviews defending his former boss against sexual assault allegations leveled by Christine Blasey-Ford.

Earlier this year, Trump rewarded Walker by nominating him to serve on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate confirmed him to that position in June.

Read the full report.


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