Far From Heaven: New Jersey Rebukes Church Group

Church-owned pavilion in N.J. refused same-sex ceremony.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist group that refused to accommodate the request of two lesbian couples to hold civil union ceremonies in a church-owned pavilion, had its tax-exempt status revoked by the state of New Jersey on Sept 17.

The Department of Environmental Protection concluded in a letter to CMA that the pavilion is not accessible to all on an equal basis. LGBT rights group Garden State Equality, Ocean Grove United, and the ACLU of New Jersey, had written to the DEP to say that the state’s anti-discrimination law requires that land receiving tax breaks be open and non-discriminatory to the public.

According to the church group, the pavilion is a religious structure not obligated to honor the request of the couples because the denomination rejects same-sex union ceremonies. The boardwalk around the pavilion remains tax exempt, however, so LGBT advocates may ask the DEP to expand its decision to encompass the whole area.

Previously, in response to CMA’s ban on same-sex civil unions in the pavilion, the lesbians filed complaints with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. CMA in turn filed a lawsuit to allow it to continue the ban.

Civil unions for same-sex couples in New Jersey have been in effect since February. Legislators under court order selected them as the most feasible way to meet the legal obligation of equality. Gover-nor Jon Corzine, in a brunch meeting in Newark on Sept 9 with some 20 members of the New York chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, said that he believes full marriage equality is inevitable for his state. He suggested that the goal would best be achieved after the 2008 presidential election.