Photographers Shutter After Refusing to Work a Gay Wedding

In Depth

Urloved Photography is a small business in Northern California, specializing in wedding and event photography. Their photos are beautiful, but their decision not to shoot gay weddings sends a clear (and illegal) message: UrLoved only if your sexual orientation is correct.

I first learned of Urloved last week, when an acquaintance posted several status updates on Facebook about his interaction with the owners, a married couple who told him and his partner that a gay wedding wasn’t a fit for their business and that they’d be happy to refer him to someone else.

In the groom-to-be’s initial request, he disclosed that he and his partner were two gay men planning a wedding, and they both loved the photographers’ work. Here’s the email Urloved sent in response:

Thanks so much for contacting us and for your very kind words. We feel that photographing a gay wedding is not the best match for us, however we can refer you to a colleague who would make a great match. Her name is [redacted]. You can find her work at [redacted]. Let her know urloved Photography sent you and she’ll take good care of you!
We wish you the very best! Please let us know if you have any questions!

On the surface, their note was fairly innocuous, friendly even. They were glad that the couple had shown interest but just didn’t feel that they could photograph that sort of wedding. At one point, it may have even been seen as progressive to reject business so politely, but it’s 2014 and that time has long since passed. Now, it’s illegal (at least in California) to reject someone’s business on the basis of sexual orientation. You don’t have accept business from gay couples, but you also can’t openly state that they aren’t “a match” for you. Large weddings and small weddings? Sure, those can be matches or not. Dates and times? Okay, sorry you were booked. But gay people? Yeah, we’re not so much a “match” or “not match” situation.

Here’s the thing: For everyone who screams that discrimination is over or that, at least, we don’t have it in certain parts of the country (San Francisco, especially) this is a reminder that it does exist. And that homophobia and rejection based on sexual orientation isn’t just not gone, it’s just packaged in a nicer box. Sure, no one’s coming at us with pitchforks in the Bay Area, but people are still open about the fact that, hey, this whole gay thing? We’re just not that cool with it.

The problem with Urloved’s stance is not that the business is owned by “bad people” but that it’s symptomatic of the views on gay marriage and discrimination in this country. The last time we heard about discrimination like this was late last year, when a bakery refused to serve a lesbian couple, were sued and then went on a crying tour, refusing to acknowledge that anything they had done was wrong. Melissa Klein, one of the bakers who refused service to the couple posted a Rick Warren quote to her Facebook page to illustrate her feelings about the whole ordeal, a quote that received thousands of likes and comments in support:

“Our culture has accepted 2 huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. Second is that to love someone means that you must agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Rick Warren

And, while being interviewed about the loss of her business, Klein said this about how she approaches each (heterosexual) wedding she bakes for:

“For me personally, when I would sit down with them, I just would want to know everything about her wedding,” an emotional Klein told the audience. “I’d want to know about the flowers, her dress, the centerpieces, her colors, the way her hair is going to be. I would even want to talk about ‘where are you going on your honeymoon?’

That’s very sweet, but why is it any different for gay couples? Are gay and lesbian weddings any different? Do gay people not go on honeymoons or have cakes? I hate to play on stereotypes here, but dude, if you’re so into flowers and centerpieces, Melissa Klein, a gay wedding is where it’s at. My partner and I aren’t even engaged yet and we’re already planning one. (He’s vetoed my idea of ’80s promo for “classic and contemporary with silver accents” — I bet you would have loved that!) And consider how easy it would have been to not get sued if you just followed the law.

The problem isn’t homosexuals encroaching upon beliefs; the problem is that business owners think that their beliefs trump human rights, equality and not being a giant jackass to people who want to get married, just like the brides Klein has baked for or the happy couples Urloved has shot for in the past. And while suing is not inappropriate, there’s now a danger in calling out businesses for their illegal practices because of a fear that the only reason one might be upset about discrimination is for the monetary gain it involves. And that’s wrong. If you’ve ever been refused service based on race, sex, gender, orientation or ethnicity, you know that the upset and the frustration aren’t manufactured, they’re normal reactions to the concrete reminder that you’re seen as less than by the dominant culture, even while planning for one of the happiest occasions of your life; even when it’s illegal.

To their credit, Urloved reached out to the couple and apologized. And then they quickly shut down their business, stating that their beliefs wouldn’t allow them to continue. In a message on their Facebook page, the owners posted the following:

“We have friends in the LGBTQQ community and we have spoken with them about our situation and want to apologize for the use of certain words.
In our efforts to understand how this may have made [named redacted] feel, we thank them for having a conversation with us and for sharing their feelings.
One of the reasons we got into the wedding photography business is to share in the joy and love on what is one of the most important days of peoples’ lives. Our business vision was to couple an art we love with the beauty of marriage.
As wedding photographers, we directly take part in capturing a couple’s love and commitment for each other. We take the medical doctor stance of if we were emergency room doctors we would want to give our best to anybody that comes through our door. It is not photographing a couple who have different personal beliefs that we have difficulty with. We genuinely felt referring this couple to a photographer who does share their personal beliefs would provide them with the best service for their special day. We wanted to connect them with someone who did share their personal beliefs so that they could give them the service quality they deserve.
Unfortunately, our artistic passion for excellence and personal beliefs were misinterpreted. That was never our intent. We have been flooded with hate calls, emails and accusations that inaccurately depict our business. On top of that we have come to a difficult decision that we will no longer be in the wedding photography business. We are grateful for this experience as it has caused us to think about how our personal beliefs intersect with our business practices.
We would like to thank everyone for their love and support and want to apologize to our clients whose photos have been impacted by the recent activities.”

The comments on the post — in line with the ideas that “gays reap what they sow” and that “tolerance JUST ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH ANYMORE — completely and utterly miss the point of why anything that was done was wrong. The things to get angry at aren’t villainous gays who want to take down any business (and, by the way, the couple aren’t planning any kind of legal action. They just wanted to vent their frustrations) that doesn’t bend to their sodomite wills, nor the laws in place to protect minority groups. What people should really be angry at (in an ideal and perfect world where everyone is seen as an equal) is the fact that narrow-mindedness and religious beliefs that are bent in such a way as to make “love thy neighbor” mean “love thy neighbor, but only if they’re exactly like you and also if they aren’t gay, because that’s how Jesus would have wanted it” are hurting others. And, really, what people who support businesses who practice discrimination should be angry at is themselves. Homosexuality isn’t an aberration, gay weddings are just weddings and they’re also not going to stop. And that’s why shining a light on this kind of thing is so important: The more we catch people thinking it’s okay to discriminate and call them out on it, the less likely it will be that it will continue to be acceptable.

One might call me cynical, but I don’t know if Urloved has learned any lessons from this. Yes, a couple of false Yelp reviews (quickly removed) and phone calls may be upsetting, but I also don’t think they’re going outof business so quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised that if, after all the dust settles, the couple opens another business. Perhaps this time, they will call it HeTrO PhOto — just to make it clear who they’re willing to serve. And one day soon, that won’t be okay, either.

Numerous calls to Urloved Photography were not returned.

Image via Shutterstock

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