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 .
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  on Monday shows why.
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]