Colorado Photographer Outlines Difference Between Art and Commerce in LGBTQ Discrimination Case
Danny and Nina de Zayas have been a part of a lot of weddings – and they’ve seen it all: Big, small, extravagant, quaint, quiet, boisterous, emotional, celebratory. Hundreds of weddings.
The couple owns a photography studio in Denver, From the Hip Photo, and weddings are an essential part of their business.
“We’ve photographed weddings with hour-long Catholic mass ceremonies, ceremonies with traditions from India, Vietnam, and Korea. If you can think of any spot along the cultural, national, or religious wedding spectrum, we’ve probably photographed it,” Danny said. “That is a wonderful and beautiful part of what we do – we get a window into all of these traditions.”
But Danny knows that just by photographing a wedding, he, his wife, and their company are not necessarily endorsing anything about the celebration or the couple getting married. They’re performing a service – paid to do a job.
They’re troubled, then, by the arguments set forth in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, which is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court and could take a hammer to the core of their state’s law that protects Coloradans from discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. A baker in Lakewood, CO is seeking an exemption from the non-discrimination law, claiming that selling cakes to same-sex couples violates his freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
“The idea that this baker is somehow participating in the ceremony or lending an endorsement by selling a cake for a ceremony – that notion strikes me as silly,” Danny said. “What’s called for in our line of work is an attitude of respect, reverence, and tolerance. Different members of our clientele are going to hold different beliefs, and our own views never inhibit our ability to do work on their behalf. It’s pretty much immaterial.”
“Engaging in an act of commerce with any client in no way means that you are endorsing the beliefs of that client,” he underlined. “Our economy would grind to a halt if every time a business owner sold a hot dog or coffee to someone, it meant the owner was endorsing a whole litany of thoughts and values.”
He and Nina know that when a business is open to the public, it must be open to everyone.
“Our economy would grind to a halt if every time a business owner sold a hot dog or coffee to someone, it meant the owner was endorsing a whole litany of thoughts and values.” – Danny de Zayas, From the Hip Photo
“Once you enter that public marketplace and choose to engage in a service and sell goods as a means of sustaining your livelihood, you don’t get to pick and choose which members of the public you serve,” Danny said.
He specifically takes issue with the baker’s argument that selling the cake to a gay couple infringes on his freedom of expression.
“There’s this idea of art versus commerce,” Danny explained. “If I want to put together a gallery show of my creative photographic work that I am self-commissioning and producing as an artistic enterprise to leverage my artistic expression, that is one thing. I’m free to create and express myself however I wish to. It’s wholly different when you are engaged in commerce and a person is commissioning you to perform a specific service – in that case, your art is in service of the work you’re doing on behalf of your clients. And that is a pretty tremendous difference.”
“No one is preventing this baker from creating beautiful cake works of art,” he continued. “No one is infringing on that right. He can bake any cake depicting whatever sentiment he’d like. But as soon as he put up that shingle and said, ‘I’m a bakery, open for business, it’s different.”
Danny and Nina understood that when they went into the commercial photography business nearly a decade ago, leaning on their art school backgrounds.
Now the husband-wife duo has a brick-and-mortar studio in Denver, with a team that has grown to a staff of five talented, hard workers. And they’re eager and excited to continue doing business with customers of all different backgrounds.
They’re hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court rules the right way in the Masterpiece case, preserving Colorado’s non-discrimination law and ensuring that everyone has the same opportunity to live and thrive in the Centennial State.
Editors’ Note: This story was made possible through the support and coordination of our partners at One Colorado, who have been been working with the ACLU to support the Masterpiece Cakeshop case for several years now. The owners of From The Hip Photo have been engaged with One Colorado for several years, working to provide a small business voice in support of full LGBTQ equality. Read more from One Colorado here. All photos courtesy of From The Hip Photo.