Church Group and Lesbian Couple Clash in New Jersey

Lesbian couple denied the use of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association’s beach pavilion.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association filed suit in federal court on August 11 to challenge a state investigation into whether the Association discriminated when it refused to allow a lesbian couple to rent its oceanfront pavilion for their civil union ceremony. The Methodist group claims the scrutiny violates its First Amendment rights of free expression.

Ocean Grove residents Harriet Bernstein, 65, and Luisa Paster, 60, applied in June to rent the pavilion for Sep 30, but the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Associated denied their request and said the group does not recognize same-sex unions. The women filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights charging the church group with discrimination, and noting the pavilion is regularly used for weddings of heterosexual couples.

By launching the investigation, the first of its kind since civil unions were enacted in February, the Methodists say the state is pressuring them to allow same-sex unions in violation of their religious beliefs.

While corporate, government and religious leaders contend with dilemmas caused by the legal use of the phrase “civil union” instead of “marriage,” the results of a Zogby poll taken from Aug 8–10 indicate that 63 percent of New Jersey voters would not object to lawmakers enacting same-sex marriage for full equality. Some 72 percent said lawmakers would not lose their jobs over the decision “because people care about other issues more,” according to Garden State Equality.