Virginia photographer files lawsuit challenging state law on same-sex wedding photos

Virginia News

Chris Herring, owner of Chris Herring Photography in Norfolk, Virginia, interacting with a bride at a wedding photo shoot. (Photo credit: Alliance Defending Freedom)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Photographer and blogger Chris Herring has filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s newly enacted state law that “forces” photographers to promote same-sex weddings.

Governor Northam signed the Virginia Values Act which protects LGBTQ Virginians against unfair treatment and harassment in housing practices, employment, public accommodations, and financial agreements, which goes into effect on Wednesday.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys — who are representing Herring — the act threatens fines of up to $50,000 and then $100,000 per additional violation for any discriminatory acts “on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

This prevents Herring from posting his religious reasons explaining why he only covers weddings between a man and a woman to the studio’s website.

“Artists shouldn’t be censored, fined, or forced out of business simply for disagreeing with the government’s preferred views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of the ADF Center for Conscience Initiatives.

“Because of Virginia’s new law, Chris [Herring] faces an impossible choice: violate the law and risk bankruptcy, promote views against his faith, or close down. No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with, and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys said the lawsuit is a way for Herring, and citizens alike, to challenge a law before it is enforced against them and they are asking the court to halt enforcement of the law against Herring and his business while his lawsuit proceeds.

The complaint filed addresses in detail how the state law violates the First Amendment rights.

“Specifically, the lawsuit challenges Va. Code § 2.2-3904(B), which forces Herring to participate in and to create photographs and blogs promoting same-sex wedding ceremonies—all because he does the same to celebrate weddings between a man and a woman,” said officials with Alliance Defending Freedom.

The complaint also addresses the number of photographers in Virginia who photograph same-sex weddings — Herring wants the same artistic freedoms.

“It isn’t the state’s job to tell me what I must capture on film or publish on my website. My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, including the stories I tell through my photography. If you’re looking for someone to photograph a red-light district or promote drug tourism, I’m not your guy,” said Herring.

“Now Virginia is trying to intimidate creative professionals like me to change some of my other religious beliefs. I happily work with and serve all customers, but I can’t and won’t let the state force me to express messages that contradict my beliefs.”

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