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Civil Unions & Same-sex marriage (SSM) in New Jersey

Part 3: 2012-FEB to OCT: Couple seeking a location
for their civil union was discriminated against
by Methodist group. Court finds group guilty.

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In this web site:
"SSM" refers to same-sex marriage;
LGBT refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals

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This topic is continued from Part 2

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A timeline of major events (Cont'd):

  • Undated comments from the Ocean Grove United web site -- a gay positive organization:
    • Mary Beth Jahn, Mayor of Neptune Township, which contains Ocean Grove: "The Camp Meeting Association's policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians wishing to hold their civil unions in the Ocean Grove boardwalk pavilion is shameful. It is a violation of civil rights and an affront to all members of the community and to justice and equality. This policy does not reflect the Ocean Grove community that we know and love."

    • Randy Bishop, Committeeman & Former Mayor of Neptune Township: "Same-sex civil union ceremonies should be allowed in the Ocean Grove boardwalk pavilion. This is a civil rights issue and not about gays or lesbians. It's about the rights of individuals to be full members of all of their communities."

    • Reverend Julie Parker of the United Methodist Church: "Why are some kinds of prejudice acceptable? Would Ocean Grove forbid African-Americans or Asians or people with handicapping conditions from use of the pavilion? Of course not. To forbid gays and lesbians use of this space is not only illegal, it's ethically wrong."

    • Reverend David Parker, retired minister of the United Methodist Church: "Not only does this blatant and plainly unchristian policy of discrimination fly in the face of the biblical prophets' passion for social justice, but it is clearly contrary, it seems to me, to the open-hearted, inclusive spirit of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism." 1

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  • 2012-FEB-04: On their website, the OCGMA invites opposite-sex couples to solemnize their weddings in one of two churches in Ocean Grove: Thornley Chapel or Bishop Janes Tabernacle. 2 They apparently still do not allow either marriages or civil unions at their pavilion.

  • 2012-OCT-23: The state's Division of Civil Rights upheld the 2012-JAN decision by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Solomon A. Metzger in the Harriet Bernstein et al., v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association case. Director Craig Sashihara wrote a 16-page decision concluding that that the Association violated the state Law Against Discrimination in 2007 when it did not allow Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster to hold their ceremony at the pavilion. The plaintiffs Bernstein and Paster did not seek financial restitution, and so received none. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) allows economic penalties to be assigned to the Association. The ALJ considered imposing a nominal penalty but concluded that the finding of wrongdoing was adequate redress." The Director agreed.

    Harriet Bernstein told the Asbury Park Press: "The laws of New Jersey prevailed. We’re delighted." Having been denied permission to hold their civil union ceremony in 2007 at the pavilion, they had their ceremony in Neptune, NJ., which is also in Monmouth County on the New Jersey shore. 3

    Points raised in the ruling include:
    • In 1989, the Association applied for and was granted a tax exemption for some of its property, including the Pavilion and the adjacent boardwalk/beach area, describing the area as public in nature.

    • Neptune Township opposed the application out of concern that the Association might impose religious restrictions that would limit public access.

    • The Association:
      • Assured State officials and the public in 1989 that it would make the Pavilion available for public use without reservation.

      • Was granted the tax exemption requiring that the property be "open for public use on an equal basis."

      • Renewed its application for the tax exemption every three years since.

      • "... used the Pavilion for religious programming as well as community and charitable events. It also rented the pavilion for weddings for a $250 fee."

      • "... maintained a website called "An Ocean Grove Wedding" soliciting business for the Pavilion as a wedding venue."

      • "in March 2007 ... denied Complainants' request to use the Pavilion for a civil union ceremony because the concept of civil unions conflicted with its beliefs on homosexuality. It was the first time in anyone's memory that use of the Pavilion was denied for any reason other than availability."

      • "... has ceased renting out the Pavilion and uses it only for events it sponsors."

      • "... contends at the relevant time, the Pavilion was more akin to a chapel or other place of worship. That assertion is not supported by the record."

      • "... argues that refusing to rent the Pavilion to a couple planning a civil union ceremony does not amount to 'civil union status' discrimination ...  because at the time the application was denied, Complainants 'had yet to obtain that legal status.

        ... Such an interpretation ignores case law and legislative enactments aimed at creating equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples. ... Even if Respondent's definition of civil union discrimination could be accepted, the same conduct would constitute discrimination on 'sexual orientation'."

      • ".. argues that application of the LAD [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination] to its Pavilion rentals would violate its First Amendment Rights for expressive association and free exercise of religion... those arguments are unavailing.

Craig Sashihara, the Director of the NJ Division on Civil Rights issued an order concluding:

    "... that Respondent discriminated against Complainants based on civil union status and sexual orientation in violation of the LAD when it refused to rent the Pavilion to them for their civil union ceremony. The Director orders that Respondent and its agents, employees, and assigns, shall cease and desist from doing any act prohibited by the LAD.

The Association has 45 days, until early 2012-DEC, during which it can appeal the decision. 4

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Some reactions to the article in NJ.COM:

During the first four days after the article was published, 13 readers posted comments. 3 They were highly polarized:

  • "NJ Conservative" wrote: "Here comes the 'tolerance' that people ... want to foist on New Jerseyans in the name of ersatz marriage: 'you are entitled to your beliefs .... as long as they do not contradict OURS'."

    • "Void" responded: "Don't you have that backwards? It's only OK if you conform to the "traditional" definition of marriage? Isn't that what you conservatives believe?"

    • "randolphcfp" responded: "NJ Cons - I am seeing your argument more and more from conservatives. The problem is, it is the right wing conservatives that are trying to push their views on others. If you don't want gay marriage for yourself, that is fine, don't marry someone of the same sex. But it is silly to outlaw it for everyone because of your personal beliefs. 

      A major point in this article is that the Association was receiving a tax break for the pavilion, but one of the conditions is that it be available for all to use."

    • "Georgette" wrote: "Now if they go after ALL religious institutions who promote political agendas although this is illegal for their tax exempt status, I would be one very happy camper. Thinks of all the BILLIONS of dollars that the US government would get to reduce the deficit."

  • "NJspike" wrote: "Congratulations Harriet & Luisa !"

  • "mmw826" complained: "Tolerance is only for you people, not for Catholics and Christians, or whites. We are suppose to bend while our way of life erodes. The Muslims get it, learn from them and stand up when you are insulted or attacked. Become the force that you are."

    • "marylou stark" responded: "If the Ocean Grove Assoc. hadn't taken public money for their pavilion, they could issue, or not issue, permits for it's use to anyone they chose. Once they took public money, it's use had to be available to all. If they had never allowed weddings of any kind, the ceremony for these 1 women would not be an issue.  By the way, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Assoc. is Methodist, as am I. They were wrong in this case."

  • "Tolken01" wrote: "Can you call it something else besides marriage? You are so so sympathetic to Muslims when something alienates them in a religious manner yet when it comes to Christians you have NO problem insulting them and their religion by taking a word they cherish as their HOLIEST of Unions and using it for something they consider a terrible sin... Hypocrites."

    • "UselessKnowledge" responded: "Are you saying that Christians are the only ones who cherish the word MARRIAGE? I guess all the married people in this country/WORLD are Christians… did you actually read your comment and feel good about it before posting? You, sir, are the HYPOCRIT!"

    • "IsItJustMe" responded: "State Law in New Jersey says that Civil Unions are to be treated exactly like marriage. And that's what the women wanted...Civil Union. They did not call it a marriage. 

      That said, the word 'marriage' has been used for centuries for something other than the religious 'HOLIEST of unions'. It also has been used for civil marriages, without complaint from Christians."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Ocean Grove United," has its web site at: http://www.oceangroveunited.org/
  2. "Ocean Grove, New Jersey," Wikipedia, as on: 2012-FEB-04, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. Rob Spahr, "Lesbian couple discriminated against by Ocean Grove association, state says," NJ.COM, 2012-OCT-24, at: http://www.nj.com/
  4. Craig Sashihara, Findings, Determination and Order, 2012-OCT-23, at: http://www.aclu-nj.org/ This is another accursed PDF file.

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > New Jersey > here

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2012-FEB-11
Latest update: 2012-FEB-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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