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NJ Lesbian Couple Wins Pavilion Discrimination Case

NJ Lesbian Couple Wins Pavilion Discrimination Case

 

A New Jersey judge ruled last week that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group, violated state anti-discrimination laws when it prevented a lesbian couple from using its boardwalk pavilion for the purpose of entering into a civil union.

The couple, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Pastor, were in 2007 denied the right to use the pavilion — which is within the religious group’s grounds and is  routinely offered out to other members of the public for a variety of functions– because the Methodist group’s administrators thought a civil union went against their convictions. When a complaint was made the group argued that such a decision could be decided based on religious freedom grounds, in effect that they had a right to discriminate based on their ideas of what an acceptable relationship was because the pavilion sits on their land. Lawyers acting on behalf of the couple argued that the pavilion’s tax exempt status was in fact dependent on equal access.

In an opinion released last Thursday, Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law found that the association had broken its contract with the state by denying the couple access because the pavilion’s tax exempt status meant the group, so far as overseeing use of the pavilion, had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination rules.

More from the New Jersey ACLU release:

“The Camp Meeting Association could have used the pavilion exclusively for its own purposes,” said Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, P.C., who represents the couple as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “The judge found, however, that the association opened the pavilion up to the public and thus was obligated to follow anti-discrimination laws.”

“We are pleased with the judge’s findings,” said Harriet Bernstein. “When we first started planning our civil union, we had no idea that it would come to this. We weren’t asking the association to change their beliefs. We just wanted them to give us the same opportunity to use a beautiful space that we had seen open for public use.”

Paster and Bernstein celebrated their civil union at a fishing pier in Ocean Grove, a quarter mile from the pavilion on June 30, 2007. By then, the community rallied around the couple, showing support by raising flags around town that symbolized LGBT equality.

“Fortunately, out of this painful incident, Ocean Grove residents have a renewed sense of community and have come together to support equality,” said Luisa Paster.

However, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s attorney, Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defense Fund, has said the association is considering all options for an appeal and told Patch.com that it believed the association’s religious rights had been damaged by this ruling:

“The government should not be able to force a private religious organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own beliefs,” Campbell said by telephone on Friday. “That’s why Ocean Grove is asserting its constitutional rights and that’s why Ocean Grove ultimately believes that the law is on its side.”

According to the ACLU the judge’s decision now goes before the Director of the Division on Civil Rights, who has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject the ruling before it becomes final. An appeal of that final decision can be made to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.

You can read more about the case here.

Related Reading:

Christie: ‘I am not a fan of same-sex marriage’ (VIDEO)

Closure of NJ Institution for Disabled Stokes Mixed Feelings

Citing NY Progress, New Jersey Lawmaker Proposes Gay Marriage Bill

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Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Made Underground.

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50 comments

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8:45AM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

Good for them!! Congrats just for fighting, even more for winning!

4:24PM PST on Jan 27, 2012

More lesbians "making waves". GO AWAY!!!!!!

6:18AM PST on Jan 23, 2012

All people should be allowed their beliefs no matter what other people think but no one is allowed to impose their beliefs on others. I am all for gay rights, in fact it is the one cause that I feel most strongly about. But I also believe in religious freedom and believe that both sides need to have a little more understanding of how the other side might be feeling.

2:46PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

Good for them! And also, if a church offers their property to be used by its members but only if they have the same views as the church, then they shouldn't receive tax money. You can't have it both ways and discriminating against someone is not a religious right.

5:58PM PST on Jan 19, 2012

thanks

5:39PM PST on Jan 19, 2012

Jan. N. To answer your question, NO I was not trying to stir up trouble. Why would two lesbians even want to use a pavilion that they know belonged to a church? I think they were trying to stir up trouble. One more thing, I'll go where I want, thank you.

5:37PM PST on Jan 19, 2012

Cheryl F., Just to let you know I'll "go" where I want. I'm entitled to my opinion the same as all the LGBT are entitled to theirs. If you don't like what I have to say don't read it!!!!

12:17PM PST on Jan 19, 2012

Hey Erin, why don't you just go where you're welcomed. It isn't here, maybe your parents?

10:56AM PST on Jan 19, 2012

So, did they win money, or what?

8:42PM PST on Jan 18, 2012

Congratulations!

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