A New Jersey judge has ruled that a Monmouth County church violated the state’s discrimination laws when it prevented a lesbian couple (pictured) from holding a civil union ceremony on its property. The legal battle dates back to 2007 when the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association stopped the couple from using its boardwalk pavilion. Administrative Law Judge Solomon Metzger wrote in the ruling that the pavilion area was a public space that advertised itself as a wedding venue without any mention of religious preconditions.
We reported in August 2007 that a New Jersey couple was pursuing a civil rights complaint against a Methodist Church association that refused to allow them to use it’s campgrounds for their civil union ceremony. Harriet Bernstein (left) and Luisa Paster are at the center of the lawsuit.
Now the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled that the couple can move forward with a discrimination complaint against Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
Since Ocean Grove regularly offered the pavilion to the broader public, it’s bound by the state Law Against Discrimination from barring civil unions, division director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo ruled. Because its action was voluntary, he added, use of the discrimination statute does not impair the association’s “free exercise of religion.”
A New Jersey lesbian couple has filed a civil rights complaint against a Methodist church association that refused to allow them to use it’s campgrounds for their civil union ceremony.
STORY UPDATE: State withdraws tax break for campgrounds.
Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster filed the complaint June 19 with the state attorney general’s office on the grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association declined the use of their private campground for their civil union ceremony, planned for September.
New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws currently forbid those who “offer goods, services, and facilities to the general public” from “directly or indirectly denying or withholding any accommodation, service, benefit, or privilege to an individual” on the basis of sexual orientation.
The United Methodist church group that owns the retreat is suing the New Jersey government, saying its rights of religious freedom are being violated.
More than 150 people witnessed their civil union in a historic inn this week. And several clergy members spoke against the Methodist group’s decision.
The Rev. David Parker, a retired Methodist minister ordained 58 years ago, called it “plainly un-Christian” to deny the lesbian couple access to the church grounds for their ceremony.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said his organization is prepared to go door to door to help fight the Methodists group’s lawsuit.
Photo: Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger