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Will Photographing Same-Sex Ceremonies Hurt or Help Your Wedding Photography Business?

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For a wedding photographer, the dividing line between what’s right and what’s wrong for your business and your life doesn’t get any trickier than this: same-sex weddings.

On Monday, California became the second state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages; a number of other states allow civil unions for homosexual couples. Same-sex marriages are expected to add $700 million to the wedding business in California and provide a major boost to the economy statewide, according to U.S. News & World Report [2].

On the surface, this sounds like a gold mine for wedding photographers. But it’s actually more like a minefield.

Gold Mine or Minefield?

You see, wedding photographers get most of their business from word-of-mouth and referrals. Many have close relationships with specific churches, which may have very strong beliefs for or against gay marriage.

Put aside for a moment your own values. Would it hurt or help your business to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies or weddings? The answer probably depends on where you get your referrals, which church you attend, and in what community you live.

I live in a conservative community, and while I consider myself progressive politically, I am apolitical when I meet with potential clients for the first time. We often work for couples who go to very conservative churches that oppose gay marriage. I hesitate to think what would happen to some of my most reliable sources of income if I photographed a same-sex wedding.

It goes without saying that mixing your religious beliefs and your livelihood can be a tricky line to walk. But never has it been a more difficult one for wedding photographers. Whatever side you try to please in this debate, there could be negative consequences.

And if you’re thinking, “I just won’t do same-sex weddings because I don’t need the headache,” it’s not that simple. A report on NPR’s Morning Edition [3] on Monday shows why.

No-Win Situation?

NPR told of the case of Vanessa Willock v. Elane Photography, which went before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission earlier this year. The back story:

Willock, in the midst of planning her wedding to her girlfriend, sent the photography company an e-mail request to shoot the commitment ceremony. Elaine Huguenin, who owns the company with her husband, replied: “We do not photograph same-sex weddings. But thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day!”

Willock filed a complaint, and at the hearing she explained how she felt.

“A variety of emotions,” she said, holding back tears. “There was a shock and anger and fear. … We were planning a very happy day for us, and we’re being met with hatred. That’s how it felt.”

The studio’s owners said that shooting same-sex ceremonies conflicted with their religious beliefs. But the commission found in favor of Willock, ordering the studio to pay the same-sex couple more than $6,600 in attorney’s fees. The studio is appealing the decision.

So, what will happen in California? Personally, I’m keeping an eye on several photographers in Southern California who live in conservative markets like me, to see how they handle it.

What do you think? Have you had experiences good, bad or indifferent with same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings? Are they a financial windfall for wedding photographers — or a no-win situation?

[tags]wedding photography, same-sex marriage[/tags]

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66 Comments (Open | Close)

66 Comments To "Will Photographing Same-Sex Ceremonies Hurt or Help Your Wedding Photography Business?"

#1 Comment By Robert On May 11, 2011 @ 7:48 am

As long as your business IS NOT publicly traded, you are allowed to choose who your clients are.

Think about it this way:
What if I called a restaurant that only does vegan and asked them to cater an event; Oh, and by the way, we'd like veal. Then sue them when they protested and refused to cater the event?

Or trying to hire a model agency that is in full support of PETA, then telling them that they will be modeling real fur coats?

#2 Comment By Robert On May 11, 2011 @ 7:54 am

And telling a potential client why you will not accept their business shows honesty and backbone.

I have no problem with what you do at home, I have several homosexual friends, I accept them for who they are.

But I do not have to accept that homosexuality is not a sin.

#3 Comment By Jeffrey On July 25, 2011 @ 2:58 am

This post is offensive. Are we in Iran?

#4 Comment By Gardner Hamilton On July 25, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

anyone who lets there clients dictate what the photographer ( the artist and business person ) decides to photograph and publish should find another career path...

#5 Comment By cheryl On August 18, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

Hello... If I was a couple seeking a photographer and their response was what was quoted above, I'd move on and say, next... as there are plenty of photographers who would gladly photography their love... the quote is at least honest... not a hate response, nor a response worth litigation either... just move on.. and don't take it personally.

#6 Comment By Gardner Hamilton On August 19, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

@ Neil, I will gladly buy your equipment at a reduced rate when you shut your so called business.. UNREAL!

#7 Comment By Al On September 3, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

Um, wow. I agree with Jeffery. And most important. Gardener Hamilton, I know your not religious. But do you believe in god? I do. But most importantly you are absolutely correct mr Hamilton. We live in a world with moving molecules doing and making their own moves. Regardless of wether another bumped into them. Some die. It's a part of life. And we are just people amongst people. I don't think anyone should provoke your opinions. If the person that posted this wasn't concerned about it in the first place this would never have been posted here. They would have posted something in their conservative church board or paper saying something on conservative lines. I could be wrong on my assumption. However, neil. There are animals that take on the care of other types of animals. It's been caught on video. Monkeys taking care of children etc. And I think that's something called love. To honor, cherish, perhaps until death? It doesn't have to be called marriage. But it is unity. Mr Hamilton I believe was trying to be nice but mr Neil you like to blow things out of proportion. Just remember, be simple and love those around you. Don't worry about writing small print. Life is wonderful and how amazing is it to record such special moments of peace and love. Thank you all for listening. Mr Hamilton, you are very humble, sincere, and intelligent. You are here for a special purpose. I hope we can inform each other with our emails but I'm afraid of anyone knowing what they are on here. Maybe we can make an artificial email to share info. God bless and allow love please.

#8 Comment By J.Oliviero On October 17, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

I am a musician and I perform at weddings concerts and other events. I received a request to play at a wedding ceremony which I assumed was a man and a woman since the event planner never ever stated otherwise 2 days later I received an email which stated the 2 GROOMS, My group does not perform at same sex weddings when I emailed the event planner stating this she was outraged and basically lied that she told me, she never did. I presented that fact to her whith all the emails. She was abusive and nasty. I was polite and just stated she should have let me know fropm the on set. I have a right to not play at a same sex wedding. I am Catholic and I do not believe that 2 men or 2 woman are a couple I have a right to my belief system. Her behavior was very disgusting and highley un-professional. I must add that my best friend was gay I also cared for his friend who was very ill. I have no hatred towards anyone individually what shocks me is that My friend w respected my beliefs as I respected his. The NAZI STALIN tactics used by these so called progressives is very disturbing.

#9 Comment By Andrew Barre On October 22, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

I have my first same sex wedding to shoot in a few weeks and I never thought anything but "great something different"!
Go for it I say, business is business and It's about time the world grew up!!

#10 Comment By Metronomic On January 2, 2012 @ 2:19 am

If you refuse to shoot a wedding based on a couple's sexual orientation, prepare to get your bigoted *ss sued. And you WILL lose. Homophobia, whether cultural or religious based is unacceptable in our society and indeed the wedding industry as a whole.

#11 Comment By Sandra On January 2, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

I just booked my first same-sex wedding.
I didn't bat an eye.
It's for my friend.
I'm a small town photographer who gets my referrals from friends, and I go to a very conservative church.
I don't let others dictate what I do- perhaps if I did, I might not have my friend at all, and he's been one of the most amazing supportive people in my life. Why WOULDN'T I photograph his wedding... or the friends who may be referred to me as a result.
It's not ever my job to judge- and if other customers don't like it...well then, perhaps they are not the customers I want anyway.

#12 Comment By Gardner Hamilton On January 3, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

if your not willing to shoot Gay Weddings then you should advertise as a Hetrosexual Wedding Photographer, if you only shoot Gay waddings then you should advertise as a Gay Wedding Photographer...personally Im a Wedding Photographer..I photograph WEDDINGS...

#13 Comment By Robert On February 25, 2012 @ 1:12 am

I am not saying that all gay couples do this, but there are a number that will do this looking for a reaction like this so that they can sue and tread on the rights of others religious beliefs.

#14 Comment By David On October 28, 2012 @ 1:59 am

Discrimination is different from participation. If I tell a gay person, no, I will not photograph you because you are gay, well, that is discrimination. If I tell someone no, I will not photograph your same sex wedding because it goes against my religious beliefs and by photographing it I feel I would be endorsing something I disagree with, namely same sex marriage, That is refusing to participate in an activity. For all the talk that religious conservatives are hateful bigots, it seems all the hatred and bile is coming from those attacking anyone who doesn't agree with same sex marriage. Who really are the bigots and who really is hateful? Read the post. And finally, the idea of threats to use the power of government to force thought and belief, which is contrary to an individuals religious beliefs and right to religious freedom reeks of totalitarianism and an oppressive government. It's so 1984, you may control how we act but you can never control what we think.

#15 Comment By David On October 28, 2012 @ 2:07 am

By the way Sean, thanks for having the courage to address this issue head-on. The ad hominem attacks add nothing to free thought or the freedom we should have to think differently. Some will never be happy until we all think exactly as THEY do. What a boring world that will be. Gray, bleak, and dismal.

#16 Comment By Sarah On August 3, 2013 @ 4:22 am

I didn't read all the comments so this may have been said, but on another issue, I know of many photographers who have either said outright to me (I am a photographer) or have made it clear by their blogs that they only serve "pretty" and "skinny" brides/grooms and those that have a pinterest inspired weddings. Can I get another detail series of mason jars, burlap decorations, chalk board sayings, and couples laying on their special quilt, anyone? So while I understand you gotta do what is best for business wedding photographers discriminating based on the physical appearance of the couple has been happening long before gay marriage stated being legalized. Ultimately it comes down to money and the overall portfolio of the photographer.