The New Jersey
Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday denied a
Methodist organization's request to continue getting tax
breaks for a public pavilion in Ocean Grove, N.J.,
where the religious group allows heterosexual couples
to wed but has banned civil union ceremonies
between same-sex couples.
The state ruled
that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association's space,
formerly tax-exempt under New Jersey's Green Acres Program,
is not eligible for continuing breaks because it is no
longer open to all members of the public. The tax
impact is likely to cost the church group only about
$175 per year, according to the Associated Press.
activists rejoiced in the symbolic step forward. "Though
we're not home free yet, today's decision...is a
significant victory for liberty and justice for all in
Ocean Grove," Steven Goldstein, chair of LGBT activist
group Garden State Equality, said in a prepared
later told the AP that the ruling doesn't go far enough to
penalize the Methodist group and that Garden State Equality
might appeal the decision. "We're looking for a bigger
victory here," he said.
The debate arose
after the association, which has owned the building and
land surrounding it since 1870, denied two lesbian couples'
requests to have civil union ceremonies inside the
with the State Division on Civil Rights began a
discrimination investigation, and the Methodist organization
sued the state, arguing that the investigation
violated its First Amendment rights. (The