A Norfolk wedding photographer has dropped a lawsuit he filed this summer claiming a new state anti-discrimination law would force him to promote same-sex marriage.
The case was voluntarily dismissed Monday without prejudice, which means it could be brought again in the future.
The photographer, Chris Herring, had said in court documents that he believed the Virginia Values Act would make him promote same-sex marriage against his Christian religious beliefs.
Herring dropped the suit because he “had an opportunity arise that he could not pass up that will likely require him to move to another state,” one of his attorneys, Jon Scruggs, said in an email through a spokesperson. “In light of this, we have decided to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit.”
Herring was represented by the conservative Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom.
His lawsuit was filed in federal court the day before the Virginia Values Act took effect July 1, known as a “pre-enforcement challenge” allowing citizens to challenge a law before it’s enforced against them.
The new law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations and access to credit.
Kate Anderson, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Pilot in July that Herring already serves LGBT clients for brand and adventure shoots but felt photographing same-sex weddings would be creating art and sending a message against his beliefs.
With Herring out of the picture, the Arizona-based alliance has found new paths to challenge the Virginia Values Act, filing two new lawsuits against it this week.
The first, in federal court in northern Virginia, also involves a photographer who says that shooting same-sex weddings would violate his religious beliefs. Another filed in Loudoun County Circuit Court claims the law will compel a nondenominational church to hire people who violate the church’s beliefs against same-sex marriage, the Associated Press reported.
“Alliance Defending Freedom will continue to defend against unjust laws,” Scruggs said in the email to The Pilot, referring to the new cases.
The lawsuits echo a case that came out of Colorado a few years ago — which Alliance Defending Freedom also helped argue. In that case, a baker refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple based on his religious beliefs.
It went to the U.S. Supreme Court and, in 2018, justices ruled there was improper religious bias by some Colorado officials against the baker. However, the decision was narrow and left open whether a business owner’s beliefs can justify refusing services to people in the LGBT community. Last year, the court declined to take on a similar case that might have provided clarity on the issue.
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