A judge in New Jersey has just decided that Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist-affiliated association, violated state laws while refusing a lesbian couple to use its boardwalk pavilion for their civil union ceremony in 2007.
This space is often used for a lot of events by professionals as by the public, so when Luisa Paster, 64, and Harriet Bernstein, 70, made a request to rent the pavilion, they did not think that this one would be rejected.
"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," Harriet said.
According to ACLU New Jersey, Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law found that in March 2007, when Paster and Bernstein filled out a reservation form, the pavilion was a public accommodation. The judge determined that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association breached its agreement to make the pavilion available to the public on an equal basis. The association was also required to make the pavilion public in exchange for a state tax exemption it received that requires equal access on a non-discriminatory basis. Metzger also noted that while the association is free to practice its mission without government oversight, it had never attached any religious ministry to the wedding venue until it received Paster and Bernstein’s application.
Now the decision has been sent to the Director of the Division on Civil Rights who has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject it as part of the Director’s final decision, otherwise, it becomes a final decision. An appeal then is also possible.
Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director, said "this decision affirms New Jersey’s strong protections against discrimination."
"When you open your doors to the public, you can’t treat same-sex couples differently."